SALT LAKE CITY Kay Jex doesnt even like witnessing a federal security pat down at the airport, let alone being groped himself.
Its embarrassing to even watch it, Jex said recently at Salt Lake City International Airport after returning from a trip.
The issue has become so heated that state legislators now are getting involved and want the practice ended.
Theres only two places citizens are subjected to this type of intrusive search at airports and jails and that should be chilling, said Republican Utah state Rep. Carl Wimmer, who intends to introduce legislation in January that would ban pat downs without probable cause by Transportation Security Administration workers.
I have not seen any empirical data that shows patting down children and seniors and anyone arbitrarily has made us safer. Its simply for show, Wimmer said.
Several others states, including Alaska, Washington and New Jersey, are considering similar legislation, buoyed by outraged citizens who believe they are being unduly groped and their constitutional rights violated.
However, it might all be for show after a U.S. attorney in Texas warned lawmakers there the state has no authority to regulate federal agents.
In a May 24 letter, John E. Murphy, U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, told Texas legislators who were attempting to pass a similar bill that they could not interfere with the operation of federal duties or to pass a statute that conflicts with federal law.
Texas state Rep. David Simpson said he is reintroducing his bill with a clause that gives TSA time to adjust its procedures. It would make it illegal for anyone conducting airport searches to intentionally touch private parts under or through ones clothing. It also seeks to prohibit searches that would be offensive to a reasonable person.
Its not a pat down. Its a feel up, said Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, a breast cancer survivor who had a mastectomy. In November, she chose to take a ferry home from a meeting in Seattle rather than be patted down at the airport.
Last week at a meeting in Alaska, a top TSA official said the agency was considering changes to its screening techniques, including risk-based security procedures that will rank populations of air passengers as more or less potentially dangerous. However, Scott Johnson, the TSA field operations manager, did not indicate any changes were planned for the pat downs.
Diana Lee, 77, of Salt Lake City, said she doesnt mind the groping if it makes travel safer.
Its better to be alive and to have pat downs than be dead, Lee said.
Washington state Sen. Val Stevens, however, said the draconian measures dont protect the public.
Having traveled to Israel, I know what security is, and what we do at our airports is not security, Stevens said. She believes profiling should be a priority along with better screening of baggage .
Innocent people need to stop being molested, Stevens said. If you were anybody but a federal employee designated to grope people, you would be arrested.