The Internet was up in arms when a video of a six-year-old girl’s TSA pat-down went viral. One member of Congress wasn’t happy, either.
NewsFeed got in contact with TSA, and their official response to the video making rounds on the Web is this: “TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that this officer followed proper current screening procedures.” But, while those procedures are in place for a reason, they’re looking to tone down the pat downs. And for some members of Congress, that can’t happen soon enough.
The head of the House subcommittee that oversees TSA, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, sent NewsFeed this statement about the video: “It is outrageous and absurd and not in the spirit of the pat down guidelines. I am speaking to Administrator [Pistole] today about it. This is a glaring example of why TSA needs fundamental reform.”
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This is exactly the sentiment TSA is trying to mitigate (and, in the case of Rogers, it’s coming from a place that should put some pep in their step). The full statement from TSA reads:
TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that this officer followed proper current screening procedures. However, in line with his vision to accelerate TSA’s evolution into a truly risk-based, intelligence-driven organization, Administrator [John] Pistole has tasked the agency with exploring additional ways to focus its resources and move beyond a one-size fits all system while maintaining a high level of security. As part of this effort, TSA has been actively reviewing its screening policies and procedures to streamline and improve the screening experience for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers.
To translate that slightly: TSA, so savagely beaten in the media for security measures — some calling it “security theater” — is trying to come up with a way to make security checks less invasive for certain groups, like cute little six-year-olds. But they also emphasize that terrorists can be “a creative, determined enemy,” as Pistole said in a speech before the American Bar Association last month.
In that same speech, he at least vaguely outlined this idea of a tiered screening system, the kind of reform that would at least start to appease critics:
We want to focus our limited resources on higher-risk passengers, while speeding and enhancing the passenger experience at the airport. I believe what we’re working on will provide better security by more effectively deploying our resources, while also improving passengers’ travel experiences by potentially streamlining the screening experience for many people.
So which groups would be streamlined and which wouldn’t? TSA hasn’t said, officially because they’re still researching the matter and presumably because identifying groups could quickly turn into a political bombshell. The problem with implementing this sort of free-pass-for-some system, the counter-argument goes, is that even the most deeply entrenched social norms (like keeping your hands off other people’s children) are a potential chink in TSA’s armor.
This line was taken up by CBS’s Bob Orr this morning:
“The video no doubt makes people uncomfortable,” he said. “But we have to say, the screener here appears to be doing her job … And whether we like it or not, it’s just part of post-9/11 security. Here’s the problem. You can’t just exclude a whole class of travelers. You can’t take kids out of the mix because then that exemption would point terrorists to a gaping hole in our security … The bottom line is al Qaeda’s very savvy. They study our security system and practices, and it’s not beyond al Qaeda to use kids.”
Balancing privacy concerns with terrorist threats, one thing’s for sure: TSA is bound to get guff from all sides.
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Update: Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the House committee on oversight and government reform, also weighed in today via letter to Administrator Pistole, and he skipped the mincing of words. “I am personally outraged and disgusted by yet another example of mistreatment of an innocent American at the hands of TSA,” wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “This conduct is in clear violation of TSA’s explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13.”
The release accompanying the letter also notes that Chaffetz will be introducing legislation this week to require that all pat downs have parental supervision (though that didn’t appear to be a problem in the YouTube case).
Update: A TSA spokesman confirmed to NewsFeed that children 12 and under do indeed receive a modified pat down, but that, contrary to Chaffetz’ remark, the video shows that proper procedure.