Texas surrenders to TSA pat-downs
- By Michael Protos
- May 27, 2011
Texas has abandoned a metaphorical Alamo, withdrawing legislation that would have outlawed Transportation Security Administration pat-downs.
The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill in early May that would allow police to arrest TSA agents who touched specific private parts of travelers, including “the anus, sexual organ, buttocks or breast,” writes Kashmir Hill on her “The Not-So Private Parts” blog at Forbes.com. That includes touching those private parts through clothing. Hill added that Texas state senators were scheduled to vote on the measure May 24, but its sponsor, Dan Patrick — no, not of ESPN SportsCenter fame — retracted it.
Patrick said he withdrew sponsorship for the bill because he did not have enough votes after the Texas Senate debated the bill, writes the Texas Tribune’s Becca Aaronson. That support waned after TSA threatened to cancel all flights departing from Texas airports if the legislature approved the bill, Hill wrote for Forbes.
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In a May 14 post on the “TSA Blog
,” TSA’s Blogger Bob wrote matter-of-factly that Texas’ proposed bill would violate the Constitution. If passed, the bill would have allowed a state to regulate federal government, which is a constitutional no-no. U.S. Attorney John Murphy agreed with TSA’s assessment and notified Texas lawmakers before they debated the bill, Hill writes.
Texas lawmakers such as Patrick have expressed outrage over the touchy-feely pat-downs administered by TSA agents. In the past year, recent complaints have become PR nightmares for the agency responsible for securing U.S. travelers. However, rather than making air travelers feel secure, TSA agents have made some, such as former Miss USA Susie Castillo, feel violated.
Castillo made a teary-eyed video after receiving a pat-down at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in April. In the video, she said agents touched her between her legs. According to an article by ABC News’ Elicia Dover and Alicia Tejada, TSA asserted that the agent was just doing her job.
TSA’s website states that agents will conduct a pat-down if a traveler sets off the alarms of a metal detector or Advanced Imaging Technology scanner. In addition, agents will pat down travelers who decide they don’t want to pass through an AIT scanner.
In Castillo’s case, she chose not to go through the AIT scanner because she said she has concerns about radiation exposure. To commentators such as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra Saunders, that means Castillo shouldn’t complain about a thorough pat-down performed with national security in mind. In a blog post on Creators.com, Saunders rants that we have become a nation of whiners. The difference between a could-be-groping pat-down and a security-improving “freedom fondle” is strictly a matter of perspective and risk tolerance, Saunders writes.
A group of legislators across nine states have formed the United States for Travel Freedom Caucus, which held its second meeting May 24 to organize state-level, legislative resistance to TSA’s pat-down procedures, writes the Hawaii Reporter’s Malia Zimmerman. Legislators from Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington are part of the organization.
The debate figures to spark skirmishes now and then — possibly until a better technology arrives that satisfies both privacy and security extremists. And for those who wish to politicize the wrangling, it will remain a tinderbox topic forever
Michael Protos is a web content editor with 1105 Government Information Group.