Today, while en route to Washington to speak to hundreds of thousands of people at the March for Life, I was detained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for not agreeing to a patdown after an irregularity was found in my full body scan. Despite removing my belt, glasses, wallet and shoes, the scanner and TSA also wanted my dignity. I refused.
I showed them the potentially offending part of my body, my leg. They were not interested. They wanted to touch me and to pat me down. I requested to be rescanned. They refused and detained me in a 10-foot-by-10-foot area reserved for potential terrorists.
I told them that I was a frequent flier and that just days ago I was allowed to be rescanned when the scanner made an error. At no time did I ask for special treatment, but I did insist that all travelers be awarded some decency and leniency in accommodating the screening process.
My detention was real and I was repeatedly instructed not to leave the holding area. When I used my phone to inform my office that I would miss my flight, and thus miss my speech to the March for Life, I was told that now I would be subjected to a full body patdown.
I asked if I could simply restart the screening process to show that the machine had made an error. I was denied and informed that since I used my phone, to call for help, I must now submit or not fly.
Let me be clear: I neither asked for nor expect any special treatment for being a U.S. senator. In fact, this case is not about me at all. This is about every single one of us and how we are sick of the intrusive nature of our government.
While sitting in the cubicle, I thought to myself, have the terrorists won? Have we sacrificed our liberty and our dignity for security? Finally, the airport head of TSA arrived after I had missed my flight. He let me go back through the scanner and this time the scanner did not go off. The only comment from TSA was that some of the alarms are simply random.
So passengers who do everything right, remove their belts, remove their wallets, remove their shoes, their glasses and all of the contents in their pockets are then subjected to random patdowns and tricked into believing that the scanners actually detected something.
I have been through some of this with TSA Director John S. Pistole before. Last spring, a 6-year-old girl from Bowling Green was subjected to an invasive search despite her parent’s objections. Mr. Pistole claimed that small children were indeed a risk because a girl in Kandahar, Afghanistan, had exploded a bomb in a market in Afghanistan. But Mr. Pistole, this girl wasn’t from Kandahar and she wasn’t in Afghanistan. Isn’t there a significant difference?
In writing, he replied that TSA concluded because a child in a market in Afghanistan exploded a bomb, all American children needed to be evaluated as potential threats. My response: If you treat everyone equally as a potential threat, then you direct much attention to those who are never going to attack us and spend less time with those whose risk profiles indicate a need for tougher screening.
Random screenings not based on risk assessments misdirect the screening process and add to the indignity of travel. Those passengers who suffer through the process of partially disrobing should be rewarded with less invasive examination.
Ever since the news of my struggle with TSA, the phones in my office have been ringing off the hook with calls from citizens who sympathize with my frustration, as they, too, feel their liberties are being compromised every time they travel. My office is being inundated with their stories of assault and harassment by TSA agents. This agency’s disregard for our civil liberties is something we are expected to understand and accept. But we are tired of being insulted and we are tired of having our dignity compromised. TSA was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but was it necessary? Has it overstepped its bounds? Is it respecting the rights of citizens?
It is time for us to question the effectiveness of TSA. America can prosper, preserve personal liberty and repel national security threats without intruding into the personal lives of its citizens.
Every time we travel, we are expected to surrender our Fourth Amendment rights, yet willingly giving up our rights does not make us any safer. It is infuriating that this agency feels entitled to revoke our civil liberties while doing little to keep us safe.
Is the TSA looking at flight manifests? Are we researching those boarding the planes? Are we targeting or looking at those who might attack us? Apparently not, if we are wasting our time patting down 6-year-old girls.
If a federally funded TSA is going to exist, then its focus should be on police work and it must respect the rights of citizens. The TSA should not universally insult all travelers; it should however research, track, monitor and target people that are, in fact, threats to our nation.
This blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unwarranted search and seizure, has insulted many citizens, and rightfully so. I, along with many other travelers, do not view traveling as a crime that warrants government search and seizure. In fact, I view traveling as a basic right, for Americans are free to travel from state to state as they please.
I refused an unnecessary patdown and stood up for my rights as an American citizen. This is a battle Americans face every time they fly. It is my firm belief that TSA should not have such broad authority to violate our constitutional rights in ineffective and invasive physical searches, thus I will further push for the reinstatement of traveler privacy and rights. I will be proposing legislation that will allow for adults to be rescreened if they so choose.
Sen. Rand Paul is a Republican from Kentucky.
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