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
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
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
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