|For Immediate Release
July 20, 2011
Contact: Kim Smith Hicks, 202-225-3951
Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith
Full Committee Markup of
H. R. 963, the “See Something, Say Something Act of 2011”
Chairman Smith: H.R. 963, the “See Something, Say Something Act of 2011,” encourages citizens to help defend America against terrorists without fear of being sued.
The bill creates immunity from civil suits for any individual who, in good faith, reports to authorities any suspicious activity related to an act of terrorism. It codifies immunity protections for law enforcement officials who act on these tips in good faith.
I’d like to thank Chairman Peter King of the Homeland Security Committee, who has long advocated for this and other measures to keep America safe. I also thank Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who co-sponsored the Senate version of H.R. 963.
Alert and vigilant citizens are America’s first line of defense against terrorist attacks. This is why the Obama Administration has launched the “See Something, Say Something” campaign to encourage citizens to report their suspicions of potential terrorist activities. Citizens who share information to stop a possible terrorist attack should be praised, not sued.
The Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on H.R. 963 on June 24, 2011. That hearing demonstrated the compelling need for this legislation to encourage the free flow of information about possible terror threats.
Even the minority witness, Chief Chris Burbank of the Salt Lake City Police Department, testified that he was, “not opposed to the legislation.”
The testimony from all of the witnesses underscored the importance of citizen alertness and involvement in preventing terrorist attacks.
In the decade since the September 11th attacks, we have seen several terrorist plots foiled by citizens coming forward and alerting law enforcement to their suspicions.
Tragically, we have also seen deaths caused by terrorism that could have been prevented if people had felt more comfortable voicing their reasonable suspicions.
Unfortunately, at least part of our citizens’ reluctance to share their suspicions may be based on fear of being sued.
In 2006, six men were removed from a U.S. Airways flight after passengers reported what they sincerely believed to be suspicious behavior. The authorities questioned the men and released them. But the men then sued airport, the airline, the police, and the passengers.
In response, Congress adopted Section 1104 of title 6 of the U.S. Code on a bipartisan basis in 2007 to protect Good Samaritans from this type of litigation in the transportation context. But, as other incidents show, terrorists’ desire to attack is not limited to our transportation systems.
The protections created by Section 1104 only apply to reports of a "suspicious transaction, activity, or occurrence that involves, or is directed against, a passenger transportation system or vehicle or its passengers."
H.R. 963 extends protection from costly lawsuits to any citizen who reports suspicious terrorism-related activity in good faith, whether transportation is involved or not.
Americans should not have to pay one cent of legal defense costs for helping to prevent a terrorist attack.