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Texas legislature passes TSA anti-groping law

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.

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