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With a week to go until the Thanksgiving travel peak and Americans’ anger continuing to rise over heightened airport-security measures, a U.S. congressman launched legislation today to end what he calls Soviet-style searches by the American government.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced the Air Traveler Dignity Act to protect Americans from physical and emotional abuse by federal Transportation Security Administration employees conducting screenings at the nation’s airports.
“Something has to be done,” Paul said. “Everybody’s fed up. The people are fed up. The pilots are fed up. I’m fed up.”
“We have seen the videos of terrified children being grabbed and probed by airport screeners. We have read the stories of Americans being subjected to humiliating body imaging machines and/or forced to have the most intimate parts of their bodies poked and fondled,” he added.
“This TSA version of our rights looks more like the ‘rights’ granted in the old Soviet Constitutions, where freedoms were granted to Soviet citizens – right up to the moment the state decided to remove those freedoms.”
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Paul’s legislation, H.R. 6416, is just two sentences long, stating:
No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), X-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.
“My legislation is simple,” Paul said. “It establishes that airport-security screeners are not immune from any U.S. law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.”
Paul suggested the controversial screening techniques would vanish if top-ranking government officials were themselves subject to them.
“Imagine if the political elites in our country were forced to endure the same conditions at the airport as business travelers, families, senior citizens, and the rest of us. Perhaps this problem could be quickly resolved if every cabinet secretary, every member of Congress, and every department head in the Obama administration were forced to submit to the same degrading screening process as the people who pay their salaries.”
The congressman says he warned at the time of the TSA’s creation that an unaccountable government entity in control of airport security would provide neither security nor defend Americans’ basic freedom to travel.
“Yet the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats then in Congress willingly voted to create another unaccountable, bullying agency – in a simple-minded and unprincipled attempt to appease public passion in the wake of 9/11,” he said. “Sadly, as we see with the steady TSA encroachment on our freedom and dignity, my fears in 2001 were justified.”
Paul, a former Air Force flight surgeon and obstetrics specialist who has delivered more than 4,000 babies, also expressed concern about “the potentially harmful effects of the radiation emitted by the new millimeter wave machines,” and said the solution for security at airports is not a government bureaucracy.
“The solution is to allow the private sector, preferably the airlines themselves, to provide for the security of their property,” he said.
Paul isn’t the only member of Congress outraged by the TSA’s current search methods.
Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., took to the House floor to say, “A nationwide revolt is developing over the body scanners at the airports, and it should.”
Duncan said there’s already plenty of security at the airport, and there was no need to spend up to $300 million to install 1,000 scanners.
“This is much more about money than it is about security,” said Duncan, the former chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee and the current top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
“The former secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, represents Rapiscan, the company which is selling these scanners to his former department. Far too many federal contracts are sweetheart, insider deals.
“Companies hire former high-ranking federal officials, and then magically, those companies get hugely profitable federal contracts. The American people should not have to choose between having full-body radiation or a very embarrassing, intrusive pat-down every time they fly, as if they were criminals.”
But not everyone in Congress has such a harsh outlook on the enhanced measures.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., today called the hands-on probing of flyers’ private parts “love pats.”
“I’m wildly excited that I can walk through a machine instead of getting my dose of love pats,” she said.
McCaskill was among a group of senators hearing testimony from TSA chief John Pistole.
“We know the terrorists’ intent is still there,” Pistole said, as he strongly defended the new procedures. “We are using technology and protocols to stay ahead of the threat and keep you safe. (Several near-misses by terrorists on airplane bombings) got through security because we were not being thorough enough in our pat-downs.”
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