The controversy over the Transportation Security Administration’s invasive scanned images and pat-downs of travelers was reignited today when screeners in Nashville detained Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., while he was en route to Washington.
Local television stations reported that Nashville International Airport authorities detained the U.S. senator when he refused to submit to a pat-down.
Paul told WKRN-TV 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 have the pat-down.
Paul refused and was escorted out of the screening area by law enforcement officers, the report said.
The TSA said any irregularity in the screening process has to be resolved before a passenger is allowed into a “secure” area of an airport, and passengers who refuse to submit to the TSA’s demands cannot be allowed to proceed.
“The passenger was not detained at any point,” the TSA said in its statement about the conflict. “The passenger triggered an alarm during routine airport screening and refused to complete the screening process in order to resolve the issue. Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area. He was escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement.”
An ABC News report suggested there could be more trouble yet, because the U.S. Constitution forbids the “arrest” of senators traveling to a session of Congress.
Article I states: “The Senators and Representatives … shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same.”
The TSA’s imaging technology drew widespread criticism 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.
Moira Bagley, a spokeswoman for Paul, reported on Twitter the senator’s experience: “Just got a call from @senrandpaul. He’s currently being detained by TSA in Nashville.”
Paul, the son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, ultimately was rescreened and booked on another flight, officials said.
Rep. Ron Paul, whose “Plan to Restore America” would eliminate the TSA, was irate about the incident. He issued the following statement on his campaign website:
“The police state in this country is growing out of control. One of the ultimate embodiments of this is the TSA that gropes and grabs our children, our seniors, and our loved ones and neighbors with disabilities. The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe.
“That is why my ‘Plan to Restore America,’ in additional to cutting $1 trillion dollars in federal spending in one year, eliminates the TSA.
“We must restore the freedom and respect for liberty that once made American the greatest nation in human history. I am deeply committed to doing that as President of the United States.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that he didn’t have any reaction to Paul’s “police state” comments.
But Carney sided with the TSA saying, “I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe.”
Rand Paul has had harsh words for the TSA.
“It makes me think you’re clueless,” he said 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 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.