Texas legislature passes TSA anti-groping law

[JURIST] The Texas legislature on Monday passed a pair of bills that criminalize enhanced airport security pat-downs if they involve touching a passenger's "private" areas. The Texas House of Representatives [official website] passed HB 41 [materials] while the Senate [official website] simultaneously passed SB 29 [materials], both seeking to reduce "groping" during airport security screening processes. A person acting in violation of the law could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor [Reuters report], which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The bill, however, gives security officials a defense [Huffington Post report] to prosecution if the officials act with "reasonable suspicion" that the search is necessary, a less rigid standard than the "probable cause" standard in the original version of the bill. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus expressed his approval [press release] of the bill's passage, which "lets Texans travel safely, protects the privacy of citizens, and enables law enforcement do its job." US Attorney for the Western District of Texas John Murphy [official website] warned Texas lawmakers that the bill would be challenged because it impinges on the duties of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website], a federal agency enlisted to ensure traveler safety. Following revisions, a final vote from the House is required before the bill makes its way to Governor Rick Perry.

The TSA announced a policy change [USA Today report] in June that seeks to reduce the number of invasive pat-downs of children under age 12. Perry commended the TSA [press release] for making the change, indicating that "Texas will continue seeking more common-sense approaches to TSA security measures." The TSA has faced criticism for other tight security measures. In April 2010, a group of more than 30 privacy and civil liberty groups asked [petition, PDF; JURIST report] the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] to suspend the full body scanner [TSA backgrounder] program being implemented by the TSA. The body scanners were introduced in part as a response to the failed US bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [Telegraph profile; JURIST news archive] on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. The attempted attack prompted Obama to announce tighter security measures, which civil rights groups opposed [JURIST reports] as a pretext to racial profiling.

 

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.