Every once in a while, there comes a piece of legislation that is so abhorrent to the very concept of liberty that it seems almost doomed to failure from the outset. Sadly, the same prognosis cannot be made for the Threat Assessment Prevention, And Safety (TAPS) Act of 2019, which, due to broad bipartisan support, may actually make it into law.
The act is set to create mini-task forces of threat assessment personnel for deployment in schools, places of work, NGOs, tribal communities, and pretty much anywhere they can perceive a future threat. These officials will be operating in all communities and serve under the guidance of an as-yet-undecided “National Strategy.” The bill seeks to identify those individuals who may, at some point in the future, be a danger to themselves or others.
TAPS is being presented as a “bipartisan, bicameral solution to prevent targeted violence and make local communities safer.” Removing the sugar-coating for a moment, in plain language it means to create a register of people who may commit crimes at an unspecified time in the future, such as potential school shooters.
The Tyranny of TAPS
In the House, there are presently 84 representatives signed up to co-sponsor TAPS, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. It was also introduced to the Senate, by Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Thom Tillis (R-NC). Representative Brian Babin (R-TX), who brought the bill to the House, stated at a May 15 press conference:
“We do this first to honor the sacrifice of these men and women in blue, who put their life on the line every single day to protect us in the vital role that law enforcement plays in the safety and well-being of our communities and our districts … And secondly to highlight a bipartisan solution — that we all are working on — to protect our communities and schools from the terrible acts of violence that we have seen and are getting to be almost routine.”
Babin finished up his opening statement with an almost perfectly-crafted sound bite: “We know that once the first shot is fired, it is too late. We failed.” But what result would be measured as a success? If the individual has committed no crime, why should they have their privacy invaded and their life chances hindered with a government record deeming them to be “threat”? If the individual in question has committed a crime, then there are already laws in place to deal with them.
Hunting Down “Threats”
The legislative guide released by Rep. Babin’s office, which presents guidance on how to support this act, helpfully offers a “frequently asked questions” section to allay the concerns of citizens who are not yet convinced. When answering the question as to whether threat assessment teams are an invasion of privacy, the document points out that, “[T]hese requests arise because the individual in question has made public statements verbally, in writing, or on social media, that cause concern, with no expectation of privacy.” This should give some indication as to who will be targeted if the legislation passes.
It will be aimed at hunting down those on the internet who post “concerning” ideas, profiling them, putting them on a “threat register,” and beginning an investigation into their lives. However, those who pose a genuine danger may simply stop using the internet for such activities, making it more difficult to track people involved in actual criminal behavior.
“… a grant program for states, local governments, tribal organizations, educational entities, and nongovernmental organizations to help establish community-based behavioral threat assessment and management units.”
Which clearly suggests that the threat assessment units will be involved in every aspect of Americans’ lives, from schools to the workplace, to the very streets on which they live. Monitoring, judging, creating files that can and will be shared with other agencies. And all it costs you is your privacy, your dignity, and your tax dollars.
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