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“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”     Adam Smith

July 22, 2007

What’s So Bad About John Doe Protection ?

by Doug Mataconis

Last week, the Democrats in Congress blocked an effort to give immunity from civil lawsuits to private citizens who reported what they believed to be suspicious activity from fellow airplane passengers:

[L]ast March, the House of Representatives passed by a 304-121 vote the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007, with language protecting from such lawsuits airline passengers who might report suspicious activity. All seemed well.

But last week, as Republicans tried to have the “John Doe” protection included in final homeland security legislation crafted by a House-Senate conference committee to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, they found Democratic conferees blocking its inclusion.

“Democrats are trying to find any technical excuse to keep immunity out of the language of the bill to protect citizens, who in good faith, report suspicious activity to police,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “I don’t see how you can have a homeland security bill without protecting people who come forward to report suspicious activity.”

But that, it would seem, is exactly what the Democratic Congress is proposing.

All of this, of course, goes back to the case of the so-called Flying Imams, a group of six supposed Muslim Imams who were flying on US Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix.

As more than one person who was present on the flight has stated, these “imams” exhibited behavior that could, at best, have been described as suspicious.  They apparently refused to sit in their assigned seats, requested seatbelt extensions that they plainly did not need, traveled on one-way tickets, and were overheard praising Osama bin Laden.

Whether any of this is true or not is, quite honestly, is irrelevent.

What matters is whether someone who notices these things and reports them to those in charge should be held liable in a civil court for doing so.

Given the current state of the world, and absent any evidence of an intent to specifically injure a specific person, the answer, it would seem should be quite obviously no.

Quite honestly, the War on Terror is far too serious to start getting the trial lawyers involved.

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8 Comments

  1. It was shot down because of the bear fault witness again somebody. this is a tool thats used often when the president says it ok., But with out accountable for ones statements someone could put you through hell because they were mad at you and you could’nt do anything about legally. Wayne

    Comment by Wayne — July 23, 2007 @ 10:22 am
  2. Given the current state of the world, and absent any evidence of an intent to specifically injure a specific person, the answer, it would seem should be quite obviously no.

    Doug,

    In a world where these guys could have been pulled away to Gitmo and declared enemy combatants, denied access to a trial, I would say that while there may not be “intent” to specifically injure these imams, it could easily be seen as a likely outcome.

    Personally I don’t see any reason to grant people blanket immunity. I would expect that if the behavior was suspicious, any jury of their peers would find that the people reporting the behavior were not doing so out of vengeance or racism, but out of sincere concern. Why would they need immunity?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — July 23, 2007 @ 10:33 am
  3. If this provision eventually becomes law, it will give our flying ‘friends’ a pause or two to think again.

    Imagine their chagrin – when intentionally creating a situation to set themselves up as ‘victims’ – only later to see nation-wide laws enacted designed to short-circuit their own hubris.

    Poetic justice.

    Comment by Rob — July 23, 2007 @ 11:13 am
  4. I can see both sides of the argument. On one hand, these dangerous times call for a vigilant populace. But then again, one does not want to be falsely accused of an accusation and not know who bore false witness against him, radical intentions or not. Unfortunately, IMO we can only look at the merit of each case and determine who is correct. I don’t think we may be able to necessarily create a law that decides what is deemed “suspicious”…this of course is in the eye of the beholder.

    Comment by Adam — July 23, 2007 @ 11:28 am
  5. Brad:

    The reason for this provision is to protect individuals who in good faith report suspicious activity. These Imams are trying to sue individuals who had such concerns. If all these individuals were acting in bad faith, then they still could be sued and/or prosecuted for making a false report. How can the government ask us to be, on one hand vigilant and report suspicious activity while on the other hand, not offer protection to those who do?

    Comment by Stephen Littau — July 24, 2007 @ 1:49 pm
  6. And on your other point:

    “I would expect that if the behavior was suspicious, any jury of their peers would find that the people reporting the behavior were not doing so out of vengeance or racism, but out of sincere concern. Why would they need immunity?”

    You may have more faith in a jury than I do, but beyond that these John Doe’s who are being sued will have to pay their own legal fees regardless of the outcome (one reason I support a ‘loser pay’ system). I don’t believe that the Imams will win their suit but such a case could still have a chilling effect on others who might come forward in future incidents.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — July 24, 2007 @ 1:56 pm
  7. “And on your other point:“I would expect that if the behavior was suspicious, any jury of their peers would find that the people reporting the behavior were not doing so out of vengeance or racism, but out of sincere concern. Why would they need immunity?” You may have more faith in a jury than I do, but beyond that these John Doe’s who are being sued will have to pay their own legal fees regardless of the outcome (one reason I support a ‘loser pay’ system). I don’t believe that the Imams will win their suit but such a case could still have a chilling effect on others who might come forward in future incidents.”

    I agree that with the current justice system, even while making a justified report, the ‘John Doe’ without this protection, would be required to come up with the funds necessary to answer any suits and that in itself would prevent anyone from making any kind of a sincere report to authorities of such possible threats. It’s time to use common sense and stop allowing ‘Political Correctness’ from utilizing the largest and last line of defense… the citizenry.

    Comment by Mr. Isabelo Morales — July 24, 2007 @ 3:22 pm
  8. Absolutely Not! Far too many Mrs. Kravitzes in the world. Tell on your neighbor programs are ludicrous.

    Every accused should have the right to face their accuser and the accuser had better have their facts straight.

    The fact that people even ponder the merits of such laws indicate that these are indeed, dangerous times!

    Comment by Amy — July 25, 2007 @ 10:56 am

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