Update: TSA’s screening and detention of Rand Paul

by Lisa Simeone on January 24, 2012

The Constitution is clear:

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

-Article 1, Section 6

Yet Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was detained by the TSA in Nashville and prevented from catching his flight. During the approximately 30 minutes while he was held in a glass cubicle and told he couldn’t leave, some passengers asked what crime he had committed.

His “crime” was refusing to be pawed after the MMW (millimeter-wave) scanner — notorious for a 54% false positive rate, as this article from ProPublica details – alarmed on his body, specifically his knee. As this photograph proves, Paul raised his pant leg up over his knee to show that he wasn’t concealing anything.

But that wasn’t good enough for the TSA. They didn’t want to see whether or not he was concealing anything; they wanted to touch him.

Paul refused the so-called full-body pat-down and offered to go through the scanner. The TSA said no.

So the logical question is: what is the point of the “pat-down” if not to resolve an alarm? If the scanner had alarmed on Paul’s ear instead of his knee, he still would’ve had to undergo a “pat-down” of his entire body. Can someone please explain how this makes sense?

The White House was quick to issue a statement supporting the TSA. Makes sense. After all, President Obama’s wife and children don’t have to go through the scanners or get groped when they fly. Though one wonders how this support meshes with that passage of the Constitution quoted above.

Then again, the unwarranted searches and seizures that are going on in this country’s airports every day contravene the Fourth Amendment, and that’s apparently fine with millions of people. So the administration is in good company.

As I’ve written before, these measures aren’t about safety, they aren’t about security, and they aren’t about individual TSA clerks (with some exceptions) desiring to grope people. These measures are about power. Control. Commanding obedience.

It’s good that Senator Paul’s experience is getting some attention, but millions of Americans are forced to go through this charade every day. And they don’t have the benefit of a reporter to tell their stories. Only on the occasions when they do, do we find out about them. And there are thousands of those stories out there.

The question is, do enough Americans care?

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