On July 20, 2011, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 963: The See Something, Say Something Act of 2011, an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 that aims to "provide immunity for reports of suspected terrorist activity or suspicious behavior and response."
In testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Lawrence Haas, Senior Fellow for the American Foreign Policy Council, stated:
As recent history has shown clearly, the nation needs the eyes and ears of all of its people if, collectively, we are to protect the homeland from terrorist attack. This is a job not just for government but for each and every one of us. We simply must ensure that our people and our officials can make good faith efforts to do their part without fear that these efforts will be turned against them in the form of lawsuits from disgruntled parties. Anything less will weaken our homeland security while exposing well-intentioned people and officials to unfair risk to their finances and their reputations.
But while it's uncontroversial that individuals should be able to communicate freely with law enforcement, there's no evidence that they aren't doing so already. Even with 9/11, the problem was Washington bureaucracy rather than a lack of tips. And as US Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) states in the YouTube video below, there is nothing in the wording of this legislation to discourage racial profiling of certain minority communities, which apart from being unreliable, also alienates the very communities that "law enforcement counts on for terrorism tips and may well undermine counter-terrorism efforts at home."
The approval of this legislation by the Judiciary Committee, and endorsement of it by representatives such as Peter King (R-NY), is especially troubling when considering the unprecedented increase of discrimination and hate crimes against Arab American and South Asian American communities post 9/11, and how discrimination against Muslim Americans has become increasingly institutionalized. Perhaps the most ironic incident of racial profiling is the one described above by Rep. Judy Chu, when two Sikh civil rights advocates, due to give a presentation on Capitol Hill about personal experiences with post-9/11 discrimination, were stopped and questioned by the police following a tip that two men of Middle Eastern appearance were acting suspiciously.
Feisal Mohamed writes, "We should be immediately skeptical of any act extending immunity from the law, criminal or civil, and the language of this act does little to assuage that skepticism. What exactly is an 'objectively reasonable suspicion?' The phrase is terminally vague in its avoidance of placing any burden of material evidence upon the person to whom it confers immunity."
As it stands, the legislation can prevent individuals from recovering any of the personal and professional costs from being wrongly accused. This will not only lead to further discrimination against certain minority communities, it will also do little to address threats to national security. The Sikh Coalition states, "the warm embrace the bill received in the House Judiciary Committee underscores the ease with which legislators can discard our most basic civil rights." And as the documented rise in American right wing extremist groups and the attack on Norway demonstrate, racial profiling can often lead law enforcement to ignore more pressing and immediate threats to public safety. It would be tragically ironic if the next terrorist plot once again failed to be thwarted because of Washington bureaucracy, which these days seems to deem it more important to monitor and question turban-wearing civil rights advocates.
For this reason, Rep. Judy Chu has proposed an amendment that "if a person contacts law enforcement about something based solely on someone's race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, they would not receive immunity from civil lawsuits."
H.R. 963 can be tracked here as it goes through Congress.
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