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TSA agents are exempt from sex crime prosecution for feeling childrens' "sensitive" regions in an effort to find improvised explosive devices.  (Source: Corbis)

TSA frisk "little terrorist" Anna Drexel. Note, no child under six has ever participated in or been used in a terrorist attack.  (Source: YouTube)
Big Brother is touching you

Given the current “heightened terror alert” in the U.S., Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) officials find themselves staring at people in the nude via full-body scanners and executing new "enhanced" search pat-downs of peoples' private regions to ensure that our commercial airplanes are safe.

Just how far the U.S. government is willing to invade individuals' privacy in the name of counterterrorism was highlighted by a recent incident at a Kentucky airport.  

A 6-year-old girl named Anna Drexel was just returning home from vacation, with her parents Selena and Todd Drexel.  As they passed through the security screening checkpoint, to her parents' alarm, Anna was pulled aside for a special "modified" search.

During the search, the screener informed the parents and the girl, "[I'm going to] put my hand in the waistband."

She reassured the parents that she would only touch "sensitive" areas with the back of her hand.

The search left the child confused and in tears.  In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" program, Selena Drexel said her child "had a very bad feeling that what happened was wrong."

Alarmed by what was unfolding, the parents surreptitiously videotaped the incident on a cell phone, posting it on YouTube [video] as a warning to parents.  The video is now creating quite a stir, much like the infamous don't "touch my junk" screening video

Martin Macpherson, the director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers says that there are no known incidents in which terrorists have use children six and younger in an attack.  

But some in the U.S. government are defending the "modified" search policy in place for children 12 and younger.  They state the policy, which includes reaching inside the child's pants in an attempt to search for possible explosive devices, is clearly stated on the agency's website.

Children and adults are often extensively searched if they decline to go through the scanners, which show nude images of the passenger.

Jennifer Mitchell, co-president of Child Lures Prevention, a Shelburne, Vt., organization that works to prevent crimes against children, also seemed to defend the practice in an interview with the Associated Press.  While she admits the search is "a little invasive", she adds, "This is a hard issue because we have national security on one hand... and children's safety on the other. The only reason it would be allowed is the parents are right there, the clothes are not being removed, the parents are watching to make sure it's done ok."

It is unclear, though exactly how "national security" might hinge on reaching inside childrens' clothes, given that children as young as Anna Drexel have never been used in an attack.

U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is among a handful of government officials who have expressed outrage at the TSA and other officials' defense of the official involved in the incident.  He states, "This conduct is in clear violation of TSA's explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13."

Rep. Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security.  He says he was "personally outraged and disgusted" by the video of the search.

Under Rep. Chaffetz's pressuring, the TSA has agreed to review the search policy for "low-risk populations, such as young passengers."  It said it may opt to "move beyond a one-size fits all system", though it gave no clue about what policies might comprise its new varied child search system or when it might replace the current policies.

In some states a stranger touching or feeling a child's groin/genitalia can be construed as a felony sex crime.  Sex crimes against children often receive stiff sentences, including years in prison.  The TSA has stated it will not pursue any charges or discipline against the agent involved in the search, as the contact was initiated in the interest of preserving national security.

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RE: Government run afoul.
By psenechal on 4/14/2011 12:20:29 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with this theory is how do you identify "all Muslims"? Islam is a religion, it's not a race, ethnicity, or style of clothing. A Muslim could be Chinese, African, or even Caucasian.

I do agree with you that we need to use a little common sense instead of some mathematical calculation on how often to give enhanced screenings. Instead of every n'th passenger, why don't we look at the odds of a 6-year old girl being a terrorist vs. people who actually look suspicious or are traveling under odd circumstances. Why don't we invest in predictive analytics to determine someone's travel history and flag these people before they even make it to the security checkpoint.

And how many "potential" terrorists could have made it through security while they were patting down this 6-year old girl simply because she was the n'th passenger in line?

RE: Government run afoul.
By theapparition on 4/14/2011 2:21:48 PM , Rating: 1
What you are suggesting is profiling.

That is considered such a bad word and not politically correct.

My response is that people need to get over it. Profiling exists because it works. It works remarkable well. Need proof? Israel has never once had a terrorist incident on one of their aircraft. Not one. As the prime target for most middle east terrorists, Israel would be the holy grail of targets. They also have easy access through both proximity and Palestine. Yet have never been successful.

This is because the Israeli government has invested heavily in training their people to profile. We need to wake up and let profiling happen, regardless whom it might needlessly offend.

RE: Government run afoul.
By Jeffk464 on 4/14/2011 3:47:48 PM , Rating: 2
Its called a background check, in the electronic age its pretty quick and easy. Ok I'm not saying that you should only check muslims, but how about checking all muslims that fit the profile and then do random checks for the rest of the flying public. Patting down a 6 year old white girl is about as big a waste of time as patting down some 60 year old Japanese woman. This is Political Correctness out of control. How about a 3 month boycott on flying, I think that would really wake the government. Most airlines are struggling anyways the threat of a three month boycott could really scare the crap out of them and I imagine put a lot of them out of business.

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