Judging that the Transportation Security Administration probably won’t be able to fix itself, state lawmakers across the nation are proposing reins for the federal agency that has been bludgeoned by criticism that its airport “security” efforts go way too far into the privacy of travelers.
According to a new report today from the Tenth Amendment Center, there already are lawmakers in several key states who have proposed legislation to address the concerns of their constituents.
Michael Boldin, executive director of the center, emphasized that the purpose of states is to protect their citizens.
“The TSA is never going to stop itself. And Congress will never stop its own creation either. It’s up to us – We the People – in our own respective states, to put an end to the TSA’s constant violation of our rights,” he said.
The issue was returned to the headlines when TSA officials detained Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., this week while he was en route to Washington.
Paul told WKRN-TV in Nashville that the full body scan signaled an alarm as he walked through it, and authorities said it appeared something was on his right leg. Paul said he offered to go through the scanner again, but the TSA ordered him to submit to the pat-down.
Paul refused and was escorted out of the screening area by law enforcement officers.
The senator has had harsh words for the booming federal agency which employs tens of thousands.
“It makes me think you’re clueless,” he told officials at a Senate hearing on the controversy. “Myself and a lot of other Americans … think you’ve gone overboard [by] doing invasive searches on 6-year-old girls.”
He also has proposed the “American Traveler Dignity Act,” which would allow lawsuits or charges under local laws against TSA agents who conduct invasive pat-down procedures. Critics describe the pat-downs as sexual assaults in public.
But the Tenth Amendment Center said states aren’t waiting.
“Legislators in Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania have already introduced bills that would serve to check overreaching TSA searches,” the organization reported today. “And the Tenth Amendment Center expects at least seven other states to follow suit during the 2012 legislative session.”
It offers a resource where such developments are tracked state-by-state online.
The center report said Paul’s experience was unpleasant but far from unusual.
“Paul’s prominent position illuminated the heavy handed methods used by the TSA, but his experience isn’t unique,” it said. “Every day, thousands of Americans endure embarrassing, degrading and constitutional dubious pat-downs at airports across the United States.”
One of the state proposals comes from Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, who last year reported her own experience with the TSA.
A breast cancer survivor, she opted to drive from Seattle to Juneau rather than have a physical pat-down after a scanner flagged her surgical scars as an “irregularity,” the center noted.
“For nearly fifty years I’ve fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused. The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government ‘safety’ policy. For these people, as well as myself, I refused to submit,” she wrote on her blog about the dispute.
Her specific plan would address “when a person conditions access to a public building or transportation facility on consent to certain physical contact or to an electronic process that produces a picture of the private exposure of the person.”
It puts the responsibility directly on TSA agents, telling them they are guilty of “the offense of interference with access” if they demand any other person consent or submit to “physical contact by any person touching directly or through clothing the genitals, buttocks, or female breast.”
Or, the legislation cites, it is an offense to use “any electronic process that produces an electronic image of those private areas.”
It would be a Class A misdemeanor.
The Tenth Amendment Center, which promotes a proper balance of power between federal and state governments as defined in the 10th Amendment, said New Hampshire’s House earlier approved a plan to require law enforcement to document complaints from citizens about the TSA.
The center has proposed its own model legislation, including the Travel Freedom Act regarding TSA pat-downs and whole-body scanners, and the Travel Freedom Resolution.
The proposals call for it to be an “offense” for someone to touch another person who is seeking access to public buildings and transportation, and making it unlawful for “any person or governmental entity to use a whole body imaging device at any public facility or government building for the purpose of screening persons.”
It focuses on the government’s demand for intimate searches without probable cause.
The resolution notes the U.S. Constitution says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The TSA’s imaging technology drew widespread criticism starting in 2010 for its virtually nude images of passengers. Some TSA employees were disciplined for making fun of the private parts of other employees who went through the scanner.
At the same time, pat-down procedures were enhanced, allowing security officers to touch the private parts of passengers.
Since the uproar, the TSA has worked to install other technology that it claims uses only a generic image to protect privacy.