WASHINGTON—Senators Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me., the Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today introduced legislation that would provide expanded protection against lawsuits for citizens who report suspicious behavior indicating potential terrorist activity. The “See Something, Say Something Act of 2011” aims to make it easier for alert citizens to report suspicious activity without the threat of frivolous lawsuits. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is also introducing a companion bill in the House today.
Two weeks ago, tips from alert citizens led to the arrest of a man in Lubbock, Texas, who was seeking to buy chemicals to make a bomb. The chemical supplier alerted the FBI, and freight company personnel notified local police officers about additional suspicious behavior by the suspect. Without these tips a person who wrote in his diary “it is time for Jihad” might have carried out an attack or attacks on his numerous targets, including former U.S. military service members, dams, and nuclear power plants.
“Time and again, we’ve seen terrorist plots disrupted because alert citizens noticed suspicious behavior and alerted law enforcement,” Chairman Lieberman said. “Just last month, the FBI arrested a man in Texas who tried to buy dangerous chemicals from a supplier who notified authorities. We want to encourage such behavior and not let the threat of lawsuits deter honest citizens who see something, to say something.”
“An alert citizenry can be our first line of defense against terrorist attacks,” said Senator Collins. “We saw this during the Times Square attempted bombing and just recently in Lubbock, Texas. If not for the concerned citizens in these cases, the consequences may have been deadly.
“Our current legal system actually deters some citizens from coming forward and reporting these potential dangers. For example, in 2006, a group of US Airways passengers found themselves as defendants in a civil rights lawsuit after they reported six Islamic clerics requesting seat changes and asking for, but not using, seat belt extenders that could potentially be used as weapons. They were acting in good faith to report suspicious activity and ended up in tangled litigation.
“Our laws must do more to protect individuals like these, encouraging them to report suspicious activity when they see it and promote a sense of civic duty.”
“Time and again the brave actions of alert citizens have helped to thwart terror plots and save lives. It is not enough for intelligence officials and investigators to combat the terror threat alone,” said Chairman Smith. “We need the help of alert citizens who see something suspicious and say something to authorities. This bill provides legal safeguards for vigilant citizens who provide tips regarding possible terror activity and the law enforcement officers who follow up on those leads. We cannot afford to let those who help prevent terror attacks become the targets of senseless liability suits.”
In 2007, Senators Lieberman and Collins coauthored a similar law that provided protection for citizens reporting potential terrorist threats directed against transportation systems. This new legislation expands those protections to reports of such behavior in sectors other than transportation, like hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, and religious institutions. Many national organizations, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Troopers Coalition, and the National Association of Town Watch, support this legislation.
Click here for the full text of the bill.