TSA Makes About-Face On Child Patdowns
The Transportation Security Agency has revised its rules on patting down children, two months after it sparked international outrage by frisking a 6-year-old girl and defending the actions of its security personnel.
Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, TSA Administrator John Pistole said screeners would avoid patting down children and would use other means to resolve anomalies detected with young passengers.
Under TSA's policy, pat-downs are conducted after checkpoint alarms and if a person opts out of a full-body scan. The agency uses a modified pat-down for children younger than 12.
Alarms occur when anomalies are detected as a passenger goes through a metal detector or a body scanner. Alarms may also happen during random screening.
TSA came under fire in early April when footage of a 6-year-old being frisked at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport taken by the child's parents went viral.
The agency reviewed the incident and said the screener who conducted the pat-down, a woman, complied with "current standard operating procedures."
Some reports had said the child had undergone a drug test before being frisked. The TSA said it does not test for drugs, and that the test was actually to detect explosives.
The patdown came a little more than a year after the agency apologized to the family of a 4-year-old boy who had to remove his leg braces and go through airport screening alone despite his inability to walk.
TSA belatedly apologized to the family of the boy, who was forced in March 2009 to walk through a metal detector at the Philadelphia International Airport without his mother at the insistence of a screener.
The child, who is developmentally delayed, was on his way to Orlando with his parents to celebrate his birthday at Disney World. His father, a member of Camden's emergency crime suppression team, had asked to speak to a supervisor before boarding their flight but the supervisor stood by the screener's actions.
A spokesman for TSA later said the child should instead have been swabbed for traces of explosives in a private screening area, according to policy.
The apology followed an investigation into the posting of an airport security manual on a government website with blacked-out portions that bloggers could read with a click of a mouse. The document was an outdated version but it provided details on what items security personnel can choose not to screen and technical information about screening machines.
Concerns about the TSA's body scan machines remain. The scanners were installed in airports nationwide despite concerns about whether the machines violate civil liberties and privacy laws, as well as pose health hazards after a Nigerian tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 using explosives in his underwear.
TSA has maintained that radiation levels from the machines are safe. They have repeatedly assured that its screeners are sufficiently trained and that the graphic images from the scanners are immediately deleted.
The assurances came amid incidents, such as a TSA employee in Miami being arrested for attacking a co-worker who teased him about the size of his genitals after he walked through a scanner.
The experience of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan at a British airport has also been used by civil rights groups to oppose the use of scanners. Despite rules that required images to be immediately discarded, the star's body scan was printed out by airport personnel, who asked the actor to autograph the images before he boarded his flight.
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