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Bay Area Airports Reach Fine Line Between Security, Sexual Battery

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Security officer searches passenger at security checkpoint, drawing, with Image from body scanner at Manchester Airport, Manchester, England (AP)

Security officer searches passenger at security checkpoint, drawing, with Image from body scanner at Manchester Airport, Manchester, England (AP)

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SAN JOSE (KCBS/AP) – The growing backlash against more aggressive airport security pat-downs could lead to sexual battery suits against TSA agents, said a San Mateo County prosecutor.

The Transportation Security Agency’s unpopular new security procedures come up against a fine line that can quickly lead to inappropriate touching, said Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County’s chief deputy district attorney.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

For a TSA agent to be convicted of sexual battery, a passenger would have to prove the agent touched the passenger “with a lewd or sexual purpose,” he said.

“That then becomes a crime.”

Wagstaffe said TSA agents, like other law enforcement officers, have no special immunity when it comes to inappropriate touching.

The national discontent has grown since a San Diego traveler’s audio taped encounter with an agent went viral on YouTube.

The TSA administrator, John Pistole, has steadfastly defended the more thorough and invasive pat-downs, both before Congress and in numerous media interviews.

Given a choice between a planeload of screened passengers and a flight with no lines or security checks, he told senators, “I think everybody will want to opt for the screening with the assurance that that flight is safe and secure.”

Pistole has reviewed reports that found undercover agents were able to slip through airport security because pat-downs were not thorough enough.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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