The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a prime example of trading liberty for so-called security. The latest viral TSA outrage occurred on June 18 when officers forced a wheelchair bound, 95-year-old leukemia sufferer to remove her adult diaper. The innocent elderly woman was detained by the TSA for a whopping 45 minutes. Her daughter who filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security stated that “it’s something I couldn’t imagine happening on American soil.”
Our Founding Fathers would be ashamed at the overreaching federal government violating our inalienable right to privacy. These stories of TSA abuse are far too common. The Humble Libertarian lists ten of the TSA’s worst actions, which include a 6-year-old girl being groped and a bladder-cancer survivor who was covered in urine after officers roughly patted his urostomy bag.
In an ABC News interview, TSA administrator John Pistole said that “I see flying as a privilege.” The scanners and pat-downs, however, are clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause. Getting on an airplane does not justify probable cause—the reasonable belief that someone has committed a crime. Innocent travelers should never be subjected to virtual strip searches or invasive full contact pat downs from armed government bureaucrats.
A growing number of states are putting their foot down. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, there are at least five states considering bills to ban unconstitutional and immoral TSA practices. In response to pending legislation in the Texas legislature that would outlaw any searches by the TSA without probable cause, the federal government threatened the state with a no fly zone. U.S. Attorney John E. Murphy sent a letter to high-ranking Texas officials stating that if such a law is enacted, the “TSA would likely be required to cancel any flight or series of flights for which it could not ensure the safety of passengers and crew.”
Texas hasn’t fully backed down. On Monday, the Texas House gave preliminary approval for HB 41 which prohibits TSA invasive pat-downs without probable cause. The penalty would be $4,000 fine and up to one-year in jail. The Texas Senate later passed SB 29, a watered-down version of the anti-groping bill, which allows hand searches if there is reasonable suspicion. The Senate version includes a caveat that says no TSA patdowns “without reasonable suspicion of the presence of an unknown, unlawful, or prohibited object.”
The terms “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” are often interchanged. But probable cause is a much stronger term than reasonable suspicion. Probable cause means that there is strong evidence of guilt while reasonable suspicion is generally the lowest level of proof. An officer can claim “reasonable suspicion” with little more than a hunch that you could or have committed a crime.
The Texas legislature should make the right decision by passing the stronger bill outlawing TSA pat-downs without probable cause. It’s a shame that the final bill might be watered-down, but it would still be a step in the right direction. Whether the original or watered-down bill is signed into law, TSA agents would still be potentially charged with a Class A misdemeanor for inappropriately touching airline customers. It’s time that the states tell the federal government to back off. As Texas Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview), the sponsor of the stronger House passed bill said, “come and take it.”
The TSA bullies have stepped up their threats against Texas. An entry on the TSA blog says “what’s our take on the Texas House of Representatives voting to ban the current TSA pat-down? Well, the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents states from regulating the federal government.” This is simply not the case. As Corie Whalen of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas says “no federal statue is being contravened and Texas does have the right to do this.”
The TSA has not stopped one attempted terrorist attack since its implementation after 9/11. We would be better off if we abolished the TSA and allowed airlines to provide their own private security. The private sector has far more incentives to provide better security that protects customers while treating them with respect and dignity.