An officer who conducted a pat-down of a 6-year-old girl in the New Orleans airport last week “followed proper current screening procedures,” the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.
However, the agency said it is exploring ways to “focus its resources and move beyond a one-size-fits-all system while maintaining a high level of security.”
Video of the April 5 incident was posted on the internet sharing site YouTube. In it, the girl is seen getting patted down by a female TSA officer.
The child was patted down in order to resolve an issue that arose when she went through an advanced imaging technology, or body imaging machine, a TSA official said.
“TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that this officer followed proper current screening procedures,” TSA said in a statement. “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.”
Before the pat-down begins, the girl can be heard protesting, although she complies quietly while it is under way.
“A child who is visibly, audibly complaining ‘I don’t want to do this,’ should at the very least be given some privacy,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, told CNN affiliate WWL. “A 6-year-old child shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of treatment in the first place if there’s no reason to suspect her or her parents of being criminals.”
Officers work with parents to ensure a respectful screening process for families, the TSA said, but noted that terrorists can “manipulate societal norms” to evade detection.
TSA’s website says that officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at checkpoints involving children, and that “if required, a child may receive a modified pat-down.”
Derionne Pollard told WWL she flies often with her 4-year-old son. Shown the video of the girl’s pat-down, Pollard said, “I think we spend a lot more time getting ourselves inflamed about things that aren’t really necessary. That took all of, what, 20 seconds to get done? So suck it up. It’s a part of travel right now.”
Passenger Daniel Amos told WWL he thinks the pat-downs are necessary “because some people do use their children in a way that is horrible.”
But, his wife Yukri told the station, their own 5-year-old daughter would likely not understand the process if she had to undergo a pat down.
A backlash against passenger pat-downs — an alternative to full-body scans in some locations — swelled during the holiday travel season last year. Pistole maintained at the time that the agency walks a fine line between privacy concerns and public safety.
“The bottom line is, everybody wants to arrive safely at their destination,” Pistole said in November, responding to an incident — also recorded — in which a shirtless boy received a pat down from an agent in Salt Lake City.
He pointed out the pat-downs are not mandatory — passengers receive them only if they opt out of a screening with advanced imaging technology. The technology is the TSA’s best effort, he said, to head off attacks like the would-be Christmas Day bomber in 2009. Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab allegedly had a bomb sewn into his underwear. He has pleaded not guilty to six federal terrorism charges.
“Very few people actually receive the pat down,” Pistole said in November. “In spite of the public furor about this, very few people do.”