New Jersey could soon become the epicenter of the growing controversy over the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) passenger screening procedures being implemented at airports nationwide. Conservative state Senator and tea party favorite Mike Doherty (R) announced that he plans to introduce a bill in the legislature to ban the searches in the Garden State.
While the bill is being drafted, Doherty has introduced a resolution and an online petition calling on Congress to immediately review both the screening procedures and mounting passenger complaints of abuse at the hands of TSA officers. The petition has garnered over 1,400 signatures since it was launched last week.
In a statement announcing the bill, Doherty characterized the searches as unconstitutional, and said that the Obama Administration’s “attitude and actions” in implementing the searches left him no choice but to move a bill to ban the procedures.
“[O]ur society is founded upon our ability to exercise our individual civil liberties freely, and I stand ready and willing to defend those liberties when they are threatened,” Doherty stated. “It is with great sadness that I have come to recognize that one of our greatest threats has been presented by officials of the TSA who have begun to implement intrusive searches of law abiding Americans who are traveling within our borders.”
“I am drafting new legislation that will make it perfectly clear that in New Jersey, our Constitutionally granted civil liberties are treasured and will be protected. I am calling upon my colleagues in the Legislature to step up and co-sponsor legislation that will protect the rights of citizens in New Jersey,” Doherty said.
The bill will be introduced in early December; and will explicitly prohibit security personnel at New Jersey airports from using imaging machines that produce images of a passenger’ naked body and enhanced pat-down techniques in which a passenger’s intimate body parts are touched. Doherty said the bill will provide no immunity from New Jersey’s privacy and child pornography statutes.
“If an individual is touched in a private area during a search, when there is no arrest or probable cause that is affirmed by oath or affirmation, the person who violated that individual’s privacy will be guilty of the crime of ‘sexual assault,’ and will not be immune from prosecution in the state of New Jersey,” Doherty stated.
“If an image is generated that provides detail of an individual’s private parts that violates New Jersey’s privacy or child pornography statutes, the person who generated that image will not be immune from prosecution in the state of New Jersey. Finally, if imaging devices use technologies that are believed by the Legislature to be dangerous to individuals due to their broad or random use in security applications such as airports, the State of New Jersey will prohibit such use and will provide no immunity to individuals who violate any state law,” the statement concluded.
Doherty’s effort appears to have the support of two unlikely allies: The American Civil Liberties Union, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R). State ACLU Executive Director Deborah Jacobs appeared at a press conference with opponents of the searches to announce the resolution. Jacobs has said that the backscatter imaging devices being used by the TSA, “involves a direct invasion of privacy.” The machines, “[produce] strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies, essentially taking a naked picture of air passengers as they pass through security checkpoints,” she said.
At a town hall appearance on Monday, Christie fielded a question about the procedures, calling them, “too invasive.”
“None of us wants to be on an airplane with somebody who wants to blow it up. We have to find a balance here, but I think the TSA at this point has erred on the wrong side of that balance.” Christie said. “I support the TSA trying to keep us safe, but not the way they’re doing it.”
Christie’s comments came as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was appearing in Trenton with US Senator Frank Lautenberg. Napolitano gave little ground on the TSA controversy, saying that the public would have to grow accustomed to the screening procedures.
“It is something new. Most Americans are not used to a real law enforcement pat-down like that,” Napolitano said. “As we move forward, of course we will listen to concerns. Of course we will make adjustments when called upon, but not changes or adjustments that will affect the operational capability we need to have to make sure travel is safe.”
That is unlikely to satisfy Doherty, who says the issues raised by the TSA searches are greater than a matter of mere inconvenience. “We believe that there are Constitutional violations taking place. When you go to the airport – contrary to what TSA supervisors are saying – when you buy an airline ticket you do not give up your Constitutional rights.”