President of Electronic Privacy Information Center says body scans, pat-downs are unconstitutional

Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act to the House on Wednesday in response to a growing controversy surrounding the use of body scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs being used by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) at airports.

"I am not alone in believing that we Americans should never give up our rights in order to travel," Paul said.

The bill, HR 6416, would remove legal immunity from federal employees who subject an individual to any physical contact, x-rays, or aids in the creation of any part of a individual's body as a condition to travel in an aircraft.

"It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us," Paul explained.

Marc Rotenberg, president of Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the methods used by the TSA are unconstitutional and have never been reviewed by a court.

"The courts give the government a great deal of latitude in airports, but it is not unbounded," Rotenberg wrote at CNN. "The current screening procedures -- the digital X-ray cameras called 'body scanners' and the genital-groping searches called 'pat-downs' -- have never been reviewed by a court."

Although a recent poll found that most people are in favor of the new body scanners, many are still concerned with invasions of privacy and possible health effects.

"They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays," Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told AFP.

Those who choose to opt out of a full body scan face a pat-down procedure that has been widely criticized.

"Is a court really prepared to say that in the absence of suspicion, these search procedures -- which the law would otherwise treat as sexual battery -- are 'reasonable?'" Rotenberg asks.

"I warned at the time of the creation of the TSA that an unaccountable government entity in control of airport security would provide neither security nor defend our basic freedom to travel," Paul said. "Yet the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats then in Congress willingly voted to create another unaccountable, bullying agency-- in a simple-minded and unprincipled attempt to appease public passion in the wake of 9-11."

Many who are upset about the new body scanners and intrusive airport pat-down procedure have decided to hold an "opt-out" protest on November 24th to show travelers how "the TSA treats law-abiding citizens" who refuse to be scanned.

Pilots and flight attendants, who are not exempt from the new security procedures, are expected to protest as well.

"This situation has already produced a sexual molestation in alarmingly short order," US Airlines Pilots Association President Mike Cleary said in a statement. "Left unchecked, there's simply no way to predict how far the TSA will overreach in searching and frisking pilots who are, ironically, mere minutes from being in the flight deck."

Paul says the solution to security problems at US airports is to allow the private sector to provide their own security instead of using a government bureaucracy.