PA lawmakers tell TSA to lay off searches
Resolution calls searches too invasive
By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — A radiation-emitting scanner used to screen airplane passengers is, some say, nothing more than a digital strip search.
A examination by a gloved official, feeling for the unknown beneath passengers' clothes, might well follow that scan.
The hopped-up screening methods, the Transportation Security Administration says, helps keep America’s travelers safe.
But not everyone is convinced.
The House State Government Committee on Wednesday passed, in a majority vote, a resolution protesting the extent and pervasive nature of TSA procedures, but not without debate.
Rep. Will Tallman, R-Adams, York, the resolution’s prime sponsor, said he’s seen ”the gradual deterioration” of personal rights at the hands of the TSA.
House Resolution 16 urges Congress to limit the use of advanced imaging technology and pat-downs, on the grounds that such actions violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution.
The resolution follows a growing number of complaints nationwide from travelers who say they feel violated by the security screening, including several instances of alleged sexual abuse by aggressive agents.
Pennsylvania lawmakers aren't the first to try to address the situation.
Last month in New Hampshire, lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would create a database to track reported abuses, but it failed in the state Senate. Federally, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed a bill that would require a "passenger advocate" at every airport to limit such abuses.
TSA has gone too far, Tallman said, subjecting law-abiding citizens to too many searches while potentially dangerous people find a way past the agents, citing the case of a man who, around the holidays in 2010, boarded a plane with a loaded gun despite having his bags screened.
The Pennsylvania resolution asks Congress to exercise greater oversight and place greater restrictions on procedures.
“They’re inefficient; they’re violating our personal liberties,” Tallman said of the TSA.
Tallman cited two groups with often disparate views — the American Civil Liberties Union and the Heritage Foundation. The groups attested, during the resolution’s hearing last summer, to reports of rights violations by the TSA.
That hearing brought out another concern: radiation from the scanners. A related amendment to the resolution also passed. It asks for the establishment of an independent review board to monitor health and safety issues of TSA procedures, and would subject the agency to the same safety regulations as other radiation-emitting devices.
But some feel the trade-off of personal liberty for increased safety isn’t asking too much.
Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, says he probably would have agreed with this resolution before the Sept. 11 attacks, but preventing a similar tragedy is worth some sacrifice.
“In this new world, where it’s clear Islamic terrorists are bent on destroying this country, it’s necessary for all Americans to understand that to prevent 9/11, to prevent other things like that, we’re going to have to give certain things up,” Vitale said. “If that involves advanced screening, so be it. If that involves pat-downs, so be it.”
Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, similarly questioned the resolution’s ability to make a difference. To Tallman, she implored: If the TSA doesn’t use screenings to look for weapons or bombs, then who will?
“I think we do need the transportation safety authority to be making us feel like we can fly in a way without the danger of terrorism,” she said.
The House will take up the resolution later.
Committee Chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who supported the resolution, said the problem started with the creation of the agency in the first place — Congress’ “knee-jerk reaction” to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which led to an expanded bureaucracy and the invasion of the rights of citizens who’ve merely bought a ticket to travel on an airplane.
He said it's “outrageous that TSA has gotten away with what they already have,” citing the pat-downs of a disabled child and elderly passengers that made headline news.
“It’s a huge cost we’re paying for that’s increasing our cost to travel that has done nothing but give us a window dressing for what threats really are out there,” Metcalfe said, “to try to make people think there’s some security when there really isn’t.”