Texas Legislature Looks To Make TSA Groping Procedures Illegal

from the don't-mess-with-texas dept

We’ve discussed an attempt in New Hampshire to make TSA agents liable to be accused of sexual assault for patdowns, and now we learn that a bill is making its way through the Texas legislature that would criminalize the aggressive groping procedures, if there is no “probable cause.” That choice of words is obviously quite intentional, as the idea is to refer back to the 4th Amendment. Unfortunately, courts have not found that such airport searches violate the 4th Amendment, though they’ve become ever more intrusive over the years.

The big question, of course, is what happens if this bill passes and becomes a law (apparently it has a large number of co-sponsors). It would create a difficult position for TSA agents in Texas, and I imagine a lawsuit would eventually be needed to resolve things. But all of that depends on whether or not the bill will ever actually pass. I could definitely see the White House putting pressure on Texas’ governor to veto the bill… Still, with various states now looking to pass laws against these procedures, isn’t it time the administration and the TSA reconsider these procedures?

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Comments on “Texas Legislature Looks To Make TSA Groping Procedures Illegal”

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Chris Rhodes (profile) says:


Seems like it wouldn’t go very far due to the Supremacy Clause (if we assume that there is a clear mandate for the TSA to do these “searches” in federal law). If the law doesn’t spell out how they must conduct themselves, and these searches are simply TSA policy, it might have an affect.

Maybe an actual lawyer can weigh in here.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Hmmm

The US Government can just say that if TSA policies are not followed that no planes can fly to or from Texas airports.

It could be a real issue for TSA contractors. They are just private employees AFIK and not sworn Federal LEOs who would presumably have immunity from state laws while performing their Federal mandates–but I really don’t how that plays out.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmmm

“The US Government can just say that if TSA policies are not followed that no planes can fly to or from Texas airports.”

Assuming the federal government could do that it doesn’t really server their cause. It would ignite a very significant amount of public outrage both in and outside of Texas.

What would more likely happen is there would be lawsuits filed by the federal government as Mike notes.

Scote says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmmm

“What would more likely happen is there would be lawsuits filed by the federal government as Mike notes.”

Perhaps, but the Fed might not be able to win such lawsuits and might elect to pull federal funding or federal FAA permission to fly instead.

I’d say the more immediate question is whether TSA employees would choose to stop groping passengers or risk state prosecutions while the State and Fed fight it out.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hmmm

I guess I have two points, congress on the TSA or FAA controls the budget so removal of federal funding would probably be unlikely.

My contention is that if the FAA did remove permission to fly to or over Texas it would be so unpopular heads would roll (figuratively speaking). I would also argue there is at least one person in the administration that would recognize just how bad of an idea it is or at least know someone who does.

I’ll also wager that the law wouldn’t be used to target employees themselves since most of those TSA employees affected by the law would likely be residing in Texas as well.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hmmm

“I’ll also wager that the law wouldn’t be used to target employees themselves since most of those TSA employees affected by the law would likely be residing in Texas as well.”

If groping is to be made illegal without probable cause I don’t see how the state can avoid prosecuting TSA employees. So as far as unpopularity goes, this cuts both ways. Should local TSA employees be made to pay for the policies set in Washington and be prosecuted as sex offenders? It isn’t something I have a pat answer for.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Hmmm

“Should local TSA employees be made to pay for the policies set in Washington and be prosecuted as sex offenders?”

Actually no. They would be prosecuted for their own actions. AFAIK the Feds aren’t holding a gun to anyone’s head telling them to perform sexually intrusive searches. The fact that your boss tells you to do something does not absolve you of its legal consequences and it definitely does not absolve you of moral responsibility for your actions. I say we should toss the TSA agents in jail and generally treat them like sex offenders. I’d like to see the viability of the TSA recruitment when their agents are universally reviled.

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Knowing Governor Perry he's itching for a fight with the Obama administration

Can you blame him? I am not a big fan of a 50 year old man “accidentally” grabbing my %^*& for the sake of keeping me safe. Not to mention that when my bag went through the scanner they missed my pocket knife, and a bottle of water, and a set of toenail clippers.

Yes, my %^&* is right there. Can I go to my plane now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Focusing on groping not big ass sharp pointy things in the carryon.

I came from a industrial installation near Frankfurt via Frankfurt – Heathrow – Ohare – SFO to Portland with a 10″ metal shaft flat bladed screwdriver that I hadn’t realized fell to the nether regions at the bottom of my computer bag. I didn’t find it until I arrived home. I went through just the normal metal detector and X ray my carry on (where they X-rayed my computer bag minus laptop multiple times) No groping, microwaving or irradating my body the entire trip.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

In the end it will probably just be a symbolic gesture on the part of Texas. But sometimes symbolic gestures are worth doing. To date there have been very few checks on what TSA has done as each new procedure becomes more outlandish. We have had a lot of small protests by individuals and small groups, but escalating to having state legislatures push back might get the TSA’s attention.

Beta (profile) says:

it all makes sense in a way

Notice that the state legislators don’t say that these procedures are pointless security theater that does not significantly improve real security. They want to appeal to public outrage over TSA groping, but not lose votes by being Soft On Terrorism — so do the federal officials.

The feds won’t ban air travel in Texas because the voters would hate them for it; the states won’t denounce the body-scan and pat-down as useless, because the voters would scream in fear; the public is outraged over the videos of crying children and beauty queens, so some state politicians must jump on that wagon…

So they attack the group with the least political power, the TSA screeners. If these bills pass, the screeners will have to risk jail time if they follow procedure… So they’ll neglect procedure (as they already do in some airports). We’ll have some dignity back, it won’t make anybody less safe, but someday when somebody tries to bring down a plane (which will happen someday in any case) the politicians can point fingers at the “negligent” screeners.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear some courage in these debates?

puggugly says:

Re: it all makes sense in a way

Umm regarding the “security” aspect, name one instance where the groping has actually stopped anything. I don’t see it improving security as the only publicized instances of a plot being stopped happened on the plane itself (the underwear and shoe bombers) or prior to the person entering the US and being groped. A scanner might have picked up the shoes and underwear but groping was unlikely to even with underwear boy unless the agent used a good, quality grab.

My guess is these gropings are doing nothing more then finding toy guns belonging to toys, nail clippers and other junk (no pun intended).

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hm… It’s really easy for that kid to not get arrested: resign from the job which requires you to sexually assault innocent travelers. I don’t understand this exoneration of TSA agents. They may not make the policy but they do implement it and if they were vaguely moral individuals they would resign and go find another job that does not involve sexually assaulting people. Yes it can be tough to find a job, but that does not excuse sexual assault.

Jay (profile) says:

A fight for the century

I can see this fight in quite a few lights:

1) a fight of state’s rights vs federal rights

2) citizen’s rights vs security rights

3) (This is the big one) the right of the federal government to increase while the state’s rights decrease if this is allowed.

Guess which one the administration is going to fight for?

Anonymous Coward says:

So, someone explain to me exactly how the FAA could ban flights in Texas. While they could tell the air traffic controllers not to go to work, there’s an awful lot of Texas airspace that isn’t controlled anyway. So what would they do? Suspend every pilot’s license in the state? Don’t think so. Can’t very well put an invisible, impenetrable wall around the state. So in short, unless someone else knows something about how flights are administered, not only would banning flights in Texas be a bad idea, there simply isn’t any way for it to be accomplished.

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