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TSA's pat-down of 6-year-old girl draws anger -- and a call for change

April 19, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger

A video of 6-year-old Anna Drexel of Kentucky being given a security pat-down at the New Orleans airport has energized the already highly charged debate about Transportation Security Administration procedures. Now a Utah congressman is proposing legislation to restrict searches of children.

The video (below), shot by the girl’s father and posted on YouTube last week, appears to show a TSA agent putting her fingertips inside the waistband of the girl's pants as part of the procedure.

The video drew angry reactions about the need for such a search of a 6-year-old. The TSA had this to say on its blog: "A video taken of one of our officers patting down a six-year-old has attracted quite a bit of attention. Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures."

And that's where things get complicated. The agency says it provides a “modified” pat down for children age 12 and under, but can't say exactly what that entails for security reasons, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez wrote in an email. Anna received the pat-down because something was amiss when she passed through the body scanner, media reports say.

So how would parents know what to expect if their child is subjected to a pat-down? The short answer is, they won't. And the only reason this particular pat-down came to light is because the video was made public.

More than 600 people so far have commented on the TSA blog post, most expressing anger and disgust at what they perceived as a violation of Anna's privacy.

"Thank you for clarifying that the Official TSA Policy for searching children includes the hands-down-the-pants shown on the video," wrote one.

"Children 12 years old and under who require extra screening will receive a modified pat down." There is nothing modified about this! It is the exact same rubdown that adults go through. So either you and the TSA were lying then about policies being adapted for children, or you are lying now when you say "the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures". Which one is it?" said another comment.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, had this to say in a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole:

"I am personally outraged and disgusted by yet another example of mistreatment of an innocent American at the hands of TSA. This conduct is in clear violation of TSA’s explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13.”

According to Chaffetz's website, he was introducing legislation to require parental supervision during the pat-down of a child.  Pistole, according to media reports, promised changes to TSA's screening of children at a luncheon in Oklahoma last week.

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