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A bill currently being considered in the New Hampshire legislature would classify the TSA’s pat down and body scanner procedures as a sexual offense. According to the Union-Leader, screeners who subject travelers to either without probable cause could be charged with sexual assault. The charge would result in a lifetime classification as a tier-three sexual offender, the most serious classification.
I spoke with the bill’s co-sponsor, Andrew Manuse, who told me the time has come for states to take a stand against the federal government and the TSA. “This is an issue of government overreach,” Manuse said, “and sometimes states need to step up and hold Washington accountable.”
Asked what he might consider as an alternative, Manuse said he prefers using behavioral profiling to identify suspicious individuals, then questioning them before, finally, proceeding to a pat down or scan. He said the bill’s intention is not to weaken security, but to stop the policy of patting down or scanning travelers without, as Manuse puts it, “articulable suspicion.”
But there are several glaring issues with this proposed solution to the pat down problem. First, it punishes—severely—the people carrying out the policy while doing nothing to address the policy itself (states, of course, have no authority over the TSA). I asked Manuse if it was unfair to penalize screeners who are simply following orders. Manuse said this is a “concern,” but added, “Sometimes you have to disobey orders.” He said he hoped agents might “rebel” against TSA management and force a policy change from within. And while states may have no authority over federal agencies, Manuse said Washington cannot stop New Hampshire from putting agents’ names on the sex offender list.
Further, the alternative hardly seems scalable to the nation’s larger airports. There needs to be some consistent security layer in addition to behavioral profiling. Metal detectors are part of that layer, yes, but are they enough? The TSA doesn’t think so, and the ever-present threat of non-metallic bomb materials suggests more is needed. (Read our proposal for fixing the TSA here.)
All things considered, this bill is probably not the solution to the TSA problem. Say what you will about TSA screeners—and there is plenty you can say—but in this case, the policy, not the people, are the problem. I certainly sympathize with the desire to change the TSA’s policy, but this doesn’t strike me as the most effective way to do it.
Readers, what do you think about the proposed bill?