US lawmaker aims to protect tipsters on extremists

Agence-France Presse | January 27, 2011

WASHINGTON A top US lawmaker unveiled legislation on Wednesday to protect individuals who tip off authorities to potential extremist threats from lawsuits, in the event that they turn out to finger innocents.

House Homeland Security Chairman Pete King introduced the "See Something, Say Something Act" as a shield for those "acting in good faith" and with "objectively reasonable suspicion" that a plot may be unfolding.

"Good citizens who report suspicious activity in good faith, should not have to worry about being sued," King, a Republican, said in a statement released by his office, citing "frivolous lawsuits" in 2007.

He did not elaborate, but that appeared to be a reference to a lawsuit brought by six imams removed from a domestic US flight that year after fellow passengers reported what they considered suspicious behavior.

US media at the time reported the imams paid cash for their fares, did not purchase return tickets, and chanted "Allah" as they were escorted from the flight.

The imams denied the reports and all accusations, saying they were guilty only of performing "normal evening prayers."

By the time security officials had questioned them and released them, their plane had left.

King said his bill would extend protections from individuals "who report suspicious activity anywhere."

The measure would build on the US Department of Homeland Security's "See Something, Say Something" campaign that aims to enlist US citizens in efforts to detect and thwart suspected extremist attacks.

Such efforts are relatively common: on the Washington Metro, for instance, riders are sometimes pressed in public recorded messages to notify authorities of any abandoned bags.