When terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon just outside Washington with airliners, the nation was stunned. While still in the process of recovering from the devastation, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), giving it the responsibility of security for all modes of transportation.
The agency began with banning nail clippers, pocketknives and a host of other pocket items. When the "shoe bomber" attempted to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his shoes, travelers were required to remove shoes and pass them through the X-ray machine. Then, when a terrorist on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit attempted to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his underwear, the "pat-down" procedures dictated that TSA screeners reach inside pants and up skirts. I shudder to think what is next. What will the TSA require if a terrorist attempts to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in a body cavity?
There are numerous reports and videos of TSA agents feeling with their hands and fingers in between, around and under women's breasts, between men's and women's legs, and even repeatedly touching groins and genitals. Recently at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, former Miss USA Susie Castillo was brought to tears after she said she was violated repeatedly by a TSA agent.
Sadly, Washington's present security policy accomplishes much of our enemy's agenda - it deprives our people of freedom and dignity and places innocent Americans in constant fear. Now travelers are scared not only of bombs but also of TSA agents who search every part of their bodies, sometimes bringing them to tears of outrage. The TSA's intrusive and offensive searches reach beyond where our enemies themselves could. In the name of stopping terrorists, agents of our federal government are terrorizing, demeaning and violating law-abiding citizens by the thousands.
Though well-intentioned, the TSA has become an afflicter of the innocent. C.S. Lewis was right when he wrote that "of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."
Obviously, there are terrorists who desire to do us harm, so we certainly must take well-considered and responsible steps to secure our airports. But freedom is nonnegotiable - even in the name of safety. The Fourth Amendment's guarantee of the "right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures" must be upheld.
We must define what is reasonable and unreasonable in administrative searches. The legislation that just passed in the Texas House of Representatives by unanimous vote draws that line with our private parts. People seeking access to public transportation and buildings should not be subjected to offensive groping searches of their private parts or be virtually strip-searched by a full-body scanner without probable cause to think they have committed an offense. Simply traveling or having private parts is not probable cause.
I am pleased to join similar legislative efforts under way in nine other states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Alaska, where key lawmakers from both parties are defending our Constitution.
Our founders not only provided for the common defense against foreign attacks but also carefully guarded against abuses by our own government's domestic police and military powers, as seen in the Bill of Rights.
Our government must be kept within its constitutional boundaries. It has an important role in punishing those who murder, terrorize and pillage. It also should proactively protect our citizens through the use of prudent, non-intrusive, constitutional measures.
However, if Big Brother continues down the path of attempting to prevent all wrongdoing and even to pre-empt the possibility of wrongdoing at the expense of privacy, dignity and basic constitutional protections, we will cease to be a free people.
The TSA's invasive new screening procedures carry us further down that path. TSA crossed a line by requiring that a traveler's private parts be ogled or groped as a condition of travel. It's time that we remind our federal government that it cannot suspend constitutional liberties and violate innocent citizens - even in the name of keeping us safe.
David Simpson is a Texas state representative and the author of H.B. 1937, a bill to restrict the groping of travelers without probable cause.
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