Tipsters Protected By New Legislation: See Something, Say Something, And Some Controversial Consequences

No city is more sensitive to the threat of terrorism than New York City.

But now, Congress is looking to provide legal protection nationwide to tipsters who point federal agents in the direction of possible terrorist activities.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the “See Something, Say Something Act,” which provides protection to people from civil liability in the event they report suspicious activity “in good faith.”

Apparently, House Judiciary Chairman, Lamar Smith of Texas, who sponsored the bill, believes the “fear of being sued” has prevented possible tipsters in the past from reporting suspicious activities and people.

However, it does make the general population wonder if an increased number of tips will increase the number of credible suspects caught–or just the paperwork to catch them.

“Americans should not have to pay one cent of legal defense costs for helping to prevent a terrorist attack,” said Smith.

According to an item in the New York Daily News’ Mouth of the Potomac blog, in addition to the WSJ Law Blog, “Congress first sought to protect tipsters in the wake of the 2006 ‘flying imams’ case. Six clerics on an airplane departing Minneapolis aroused the suspicion of passengers and crew and were forced to deplane. The imams later filed suit against some of those reporting their suspicions, which prompted the passage of a federal law that provided legal protection to tipsters.”

The new legislation would move beyond previous legal protection for tipsters–including the ‘flying imams’ case, which only covered public transportation.

The See Something, Say Something Act would protect all tipsters. Of course, once again, those who do so “in good faith.”

These days, it’s hard to say what qualifies “in good faith.” Many lawmakers are already concerned that adding an all-encompasing liability protection for tipsters will increase racial profiling.

Has the “If you see something, say something. Thank you for riding the M.T.A.” turned from advertizing campaign to conservative political agenda?

More a propos for lawyers, if passed, who will be the first to challenge this legislation in court? And, how broad will the legislation go to define “terrorism”? The language of the law may soon affect the number of tipsters law firms receive regarding their most contentious cases. 

 

-WB

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