WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders have announced that an agreement on the 9/11 bill conference report includes a provision coauthored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., that will provide legal protections to individuals who report suspicious activity to authorized officials. The provision will make it harder to sue citizens who, acting in good faith, report threats to our transportation systems by allowing those citizens to recover attorneys’ fees, if sued. The measure is retroactive to October 2006. It would not protect individuals who knowingly make false statements. The provision was earlier introduced by the Senators as a freestanding bill, S. 1369, and was cosponsored by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
Senator Lieberman said, “People acting in good faith to avert what they believe may be terrorist activity should not be punished for their vigilance. Every citizen must observe his or her surroundings and be alert to suspicious activity without the fear of being sued for their life savings. We are interested only in good faith reports, not false or malicious accusations.”
Senator Collins said, “Vigilant, watchful citizens are vital to America’s homeland security. If individuals see something suspicious that could represent a terror threat, they should be encouraged to report that activity without fear of being sued. There are a number of examples of terror plots that where foiled and lives saved due to the involvement of alert citizens…An alert citizenry is one of our best defenses against terrorist attacks. That is why the New York City subway system has signs reading, ‘If You See Something, Say Something.’ That is just what a group of airline passengers did recent in reporting suspicious activity that they thought represented a terrorist threat. The result was that those passengers, the pilot, and the airport were all sued. This provision would protect from lawsuits individual citizens who report suspicious activity.”
The arrests earlier this year in Fort Dix, N.J., which foiled a plot to attack and kill American soldiers, were the result of a tip from a vigilant citizen, coupled with effective coordination by state and federal law enforcement officials. This incident was one of a number that highlighted the importance of alert citizens in fighting against terrorist threats.