Friday, November 19, 2010

Bill would expose TSA screeners to laws prohibiting sexual assault

President of Electronic Privacy Information Center says body scans, pat-downs are unconstitutional

Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act to the House on Wednesday in response to a growing controversy surrounding the use of body scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs being used by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) at airports.

"I am not alone in believing that we Americans should never give up our rights in order to travel," Paul said.

The bill, HR 6416, would remove legal immunity from federal employees who subject an individual to any physical contact, x-rays, or aids in the creation of any part of a individual's body as a condition to travel in an aircraft.

"It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us," Paul explained.

Marc Rotenberg, president of Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the methods used by the TSA are unconstitutional and have never been reviewed by a court.

"The courts give the government a great deal of latitude in airports, but it is not unbounded," Rotenberg wrote at CNN. "The current screening procedures -- the digital X-ray cameras called 'body scanners' and the genital-groping searches called 'pat-downs' -- have never been reviewed by a court."

Although a recent poll found that most people are in favor of the new body scanners, many are still concerned with invasions of privacy and possible health effects.

"They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays," Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told AFP.

Those who choose to opt out of a full body scan face a pat-down procedure that has been widely criticized.

"Is a court really prepared to say that in the absence of suspicion, these search procedures -- which the law would otherwise treat as sexual battery -- are 'reasonable?'" Rotenberg asks.

"I warned at the time of the creation of the TSA that an unaccountable government entity in control of airport security would provide neither security nor defend our basic freedom to travel," Paul said. "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."


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