The TAPS Act: In Support of our National Interest

The Threat Assessment, Prevention, and Safety (TAPS) Act identifies its goal as developing a national strategy to prevent targeted violence through behavioral threat assessment and management. The bill proposes that the nation not only has the capability and capacity to develop behavior threat assessment guidelines and best practices, but it is also in our national interest to do so.

To achieve this, the TAPS Act calls for a joint behavioral threat assessment task force comprised of subject-matter experts to provide recommendations on creating and implementing a strategy against targeted violence. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for implementing this strategy and for providing information and resources to any Federal, State, local, Tribal agency or private entity in the protection and public safety sector. The provision of these resources is made through grants for communities to establish behavioral-based threat assessment units. An important feature notated by the TAPS Act is that the legislation recommends a strategy, it is not establishing a national standard; using the approach is voluntary.

Those involved with writing the TAPS Act acknowledge the bill is not without its critics. While skeptics voice concerns over profiling and privacy rights infringements, they need not be concerned with either. First, behavioral threat assessment concentrates on what people do, not on their inherent humanity. It is not about who one is, it is about what one does.  Secondly, when it comes to privacy, the TAPS Act does not abridge the Fourth Amendment, nor does it convey any new authority. Also, the Act does not remove or usurp existing protections that guide information gathering and investigative practices (examples include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act).

Siloing of information is a persistent problem and is particularly concerning in situations of potential violence.  Vital details on concerning, but noncriminal activity, may be embedded in various departments or organizations and may not otherwise be shared.  Threat assessment teams can help bring unconnected information together. The lack of inclination to share information about potentially dangerous situations, or the flawed belief that information can’t be shared because it will violate personal privacy, are obstacles. For example, the report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting discusses the failure to communicate questionable behavior due to the fear of violating someone’s privacy:

“University officials…explained their failures to communicate with one another or with Cho’s parents by noting their belief that such communications are prohibited by the federal laws governing the privacy of health and education records. Federal laws and their state counterparts afforded ample leeway to share information in potentially dangerous situations…The system failed for lack of resources, incorrect interpretation of privacy laws…”

The TAPS Act acknowledges information sharing is part of the threat assessment process and vital to violence prevention. The Act encourages information-sharing practices such as taking advantage of existing resources like the State Fusion Centers.

Without infringing upon anyone’s rights, the TAPS Act presents a plan of action to help prevent targeted attacks. By distributing money in the form of grants, the Act also helps those entities that wish to develop threat assessment teams.  I encourage you to follow the progress of the TAPS Act.

About Sheldon Beddo

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