Passenger Bill of Rights Blocks Intrusive TSA Searches

Underscoring public dissatisfaction with airport security screening, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced two pieces of legislation to streamline the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) screening processes and treatment of passengers.

S.3302 establishes a "Bill of Rights" for air travelers, establishes protections for passengers, guidelines for screening procedures and requires reforms to the air security bureaucracy.

"Many of TSA's screening procedures simply defy common sense, such as 'enhanced pat-downs' of elderly passengers, young children, or those with disabilities. It seems that every day brings a new account of mistreatment by TSA agents during the screening process," Senator Paul said.

"While aviation security is undoubtedly important, we must be diligent in protecting the rights of all Americans, such as their freedom from being subjected to humiliating and intrusive searches by TSA agents, especially when there is no obvious cause," Senator Paul said.

"It is important that the rules and boundaries of our airport screening process be transparent and easily available to travelers so that proper restraints are in place on screeners. Travelers should be empowered with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves from a violation of their rights and dignity," he said.

Among the 17 minimum rights laid out in Senator Paul's passenger Bill of Rights:

    •    A TSA screener "opt-out" for airports, allowing them access to the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) and private screeners
    •    A one-year deadline to implement a screening process for pre-cleared frequent-flyers at all airports with more than 250,000 annual flights
    •    Authority to permit travelers who fail to pass imaging or metal detector screening to choose to be re-screened rather than subjected to an automatic pat-down
    •    Expansion of canine screening at airports, a more effective and less invasive method of screening passengers for explosives, as well as a strong deterrent
    •    Eliminating unnecessary pat-downs for children 12 years of age or under
    •    Right of parents to stay with their children during the screening process
    •    Guaranteeing a traveler's right to request a pat-down using only the back of the hand
    •    Protection of a traveler's right to appropriately object to mistreatment by screeners
    •    Protection of a traveler's right to decline a backscatter X-ray scan, a screening method with potentially harmful health effects
    •    Protection of a traveler's right to contact an attorney if detained or removed from screening

The bill would require these and other reforms be collected into a single Bill of Rights to be distributed by TSA at airports and placed on TSA's public website. It also requires 90 percent of unclaimed change left at screening points to be returned to the U.S. Treasury through an incentive program to airports.

The second bill, S.3303, ends the TSA screening program and requires screening of passengers at airports to be conducted by private screeners only.