Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of United States Senators including Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Susan Collins, Chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) today introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide legal protections to individuals who report suspicious activity that may reflect terrorist threats. The bill would provide civil immunity in American courts for citizens who, acting in good faith, report threats to our transportation systems to appropriate law-enforcement and transportation-system officials, without fear of being sued. The bill would not protect individuals who knowingly make false statements.
An amendment authored by Representatives Peter T. King (R-NY) and Steve Pearce (R-NM) containing similar language was already adopted by the House. The Senate sponsors indicated that the introduction of the bill in the Senate represents a breakthrough for efforts to include the amendment in final 9/11 legislation, currently under negotiation between the House and the Senate.
King, Pearce, and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) are also set to introduce companion legislation next week.
In a speech to the U.S. Senate, Collins explained that the recent arrests in Fort Dix, New Jersey, which foiled a plot to attack and kill American soldiers, was the result of a tip from a vigilant citizen, coupled with effective coordination by state and federal law enforcement officials.
“The recent arrests in New Jersey of six men charged with conspiring to murder American soldiers at Fort Dix underscores the need for this bill,” noted Senator Collins. “Law-enforcement officials have noted that their investigation was triggered by an alert clerk’s report that a customer had brought in a video that showed men firing weapons and shouting in Arabic, which reminded him of the 9/11 terrorists. Protecting citizens who make good-faith reports of potentially lethal activities is essential to maintaining our homeland security.”
Senator Lieberman said, “Since 2001, when we were struck on our own shores by Islamist terrorists, the idea has taken hold that everyone needs to be alert to possible terrorist incidents. This notion paid off when authorities arrested six men in Fort Dix, N.J., after a store clerk noticed alarming elements in a video tape the alleged would-be terrorists brought to the store for copying. The Fort Dix incident reminds us that ordinary people can and do play an important role in the security of our communities. This bill will encourage others to be alert to suspicious activities regarding transportation systems, without fear of repercussions.
Senator Kyl said, “I am happy to join with Senator Collins on this bill to provide legal protection to citizens that report information to law-enforcement officials. If you see something, you should say something, and not have to worry about being sued.”
Rep. King noted, “In a post-9/11 reality, passenger vigilance is essential to security. If we fail to protect passengers that report suspicious behavior, it would be a huge victory for terrorists. It is terrific news that Chairman Lieberman and Ranking Member Collins have thrown their weight behind this important measure. If we expect the 9/11 bill to be meaningful, substantive homeland security legislation, the ‘John Doe’ protections for passengers must remain a part of it.”
Rep. Pearce said, “Alert Americans are often our first and last line of defense in protecting the country from terrorist attacks. They should not face potential prosecution for doing the right thing and coming forward to report suspicious activity. It is a sad commentary that this kind of common sense has to be written into law, but we must make it clear to America’s enemies that they can not exploit our system of justice.”
Rep. Shuster noted, “No American should ever be sued because they tried to stop a terrorist act. No American should be forced to second guess a decision to alert authorities that could save the lives of other. This legislation will protect vigilant American against the threat of punitive and frivolous lawsuits whose only objective is to chill public involvement in the War on Terror when we need it most. I applaud Rep. Pearce and Rep. King for their leadership in spearheading this legislation with me.”