For our protection

Security officials, as well as passengers, should be kept safe

Americans are expected to be ever more vigilant, now that al-Qaida promises to retaliate for Osama bin Laden's death.

 

But will citizens who report their concerns be protected from lawsuits if their reports turn out to be unfounded?

Will authorities who act on those reports also be protected?

It seems to us that observant Americans deserve immunity from lawsuits if they make sincere and honest concerns known to authorities. And public and private officials who act on those reports should be immune from retribution as well.

Americans trying to keep the country safe shouldn't have to fear civil retaliation as much as they fear the terrorists. They should have blanket immunity for acts of good citizenship.

It's similar to "Good Samaritan" laws that hold people harmless for rendering aid in emergency situations.

A rash of recent evacuations and airline incidents seems to indicate that reports of suspicious packages and behaviors are already escalating. Such worries, which used to be confined mostly to air travel, have expanded to all forms of mass transit since it became known that bin Laden was hoping to stage a rail assault around the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Indeed, a Dallas light rail station was evacuated Saturday after the report of a suspicious man asking others to carry packages for him. New York also saw two rail incidents and an SUV bomb scare over the weekend. Several flights were diverted after security scares.

At Denver International Airport, several men were arrested and security lines halted after a man was seen recording a video of three others in the security line. Two of the men had neither IDs nor boarding passes.

The summer travel season kicks off later this month. The jittery season is in full swing now.

That means we're all going to have to be more patient and accommodating, especially those travelers who are innocently, and perhaps mistakenly, put into question.

It's a delicate balance, to be sure -- and while asking us to be more vigilant, the government doesn't offer much in the way of guidance. This is the same government that is wanding children and checking in diapers -- for what, the next underwear bomber?

And regular citizens are at risk for reporting legitimate concerns?

The best advice is just to use common sense. No one is suspect because of his or her skin color, accent or dress. While being more attentive, we must also be discerning.

Yet, if something sets off alarm bells, we would hope the innocent among us would be understanding -- and that well-intended suspicions don't come with reprisals.

When six imams were taken off a plane in Minneapolis several years ago, they sued not only the airline but the passengers who reported the imams' odd behavior -- which included, according to the Associated Press, the fact that "the men were seen praying and chanting in Arabic as they waited to board. Some passengers also said that the men spoke of Saddam Hussein and cursed the United States; that they requested seat belt extenders with heavy buckles and stowed them under their seats; that they were moving about and conferring with each other during boarding; and that they sat separately in seats scattered through the cabin."

We've got to figure this out. We can't have people afraid of reporting honest suspicions.

We all deserve to be protected -- especially those trying to protect us.

 

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