Saturday, February 25, 2012

State Delegate Takes on TSA Searches

Several state delegates have proposed legislation which would challenge the power of the TSA to conduct invasive searches at state owned airports, in response to concerns that the searches are unconstitutional and overly intrusive.

In 2010 the Transportation Security Administration introduced a new policy of ‘enhanced patdowns’ as well as new ‘full body scanners’.  This was in response to an incident in 2009 where a terrorist (ie “the underwear bomber”) smuggled a small quantity of liquid explosive onto a plane which he had sewn into his undergarments. (He succeeded only in setting his pants on fire.)  Now airport passengers may be required to go through scanners which peer underneath clothes, or to submit to physical searches which may include patting down genitals and other sensitive areas.

The policy has come under fire by some groups as a constitutional violation.  Many times individuals who opt to be scanned trigger ‘false positives’ and are still forced to submit to the invasive patdowns before they can board.  This is a particular concern for individuals with prosthetics and medical devices, and has resulted in embarrassing incidents which included such individuals being forced to remove prosthetics or suffer other personal embarrassment.  Some women have also claimed to have been singled out for searches or scans, though the TSA asserts that its searches in such instances were appropriate.  Incidents involving searches of children also drew attention to the issue.

Delegate Glen Glass (R, Cecil & Hartford Counties)has sponsored House Bill 1111, which would ban “a specified public servant, while acting under color of the public servant's office or employment, from intentionally subjecting another person to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that the public servant knows is unlawful”.  The bill is written to apply to both state and federal officials.  If passed, this bill could outlaw or seriously restrict many TSA searches without probable cause.

A second bill proposed by Glass, House Bill 1106, would prohibit “a public servant from conducting a specified inappropriate search of a minor without probable cause that the minor is concealing contraband or a weapon or without the consent of the parent or guardian of the minor”.

Delegate Glass also sponsored House Bill 1244 along with Delegate Joseph Botler (R, Baltimore County) and Delegate Pat McDonough (R, Baltimore & Hartford Counties), which would require the Maryland Aviation Administration to hire a private contractor to be responsible for airport screening at airport facilities owned by the state.

House Bill 1245, sponsored by Delegates Glass, Boteler, and Nancy Stockdale (R, Carroll County) would require the Maryland Aviation Administration to enforce that ”a person serving as a transportation security officer, passenger screener, or luggage screener at an airport in the State be certified in the proper protocol for searching passengers and luggage in a constitutional manner”.  It also states that a passenger's property can only be searched in the presence of that individual.

"These searches go well beyond what the law allows, are unconstitutional and are growing worse." wrote Delegate Glass.  "These bills will help to stop the inappropriate searches currently taking place."

Delegate Glass has scheduled a press conference to discuss the bills on March 1.