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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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By robinthakur on 4/15/2011 7:15:04 AM , Rating: 3
I would say firstly that as somebody from the UK with an external view it is deeply ironic that the US, a country so ill at ease with nudity, sex and so particularly phobic about child-molestation is now allowing this to happen to their own citizens.

It is plainly LUDICROUS that such an invasive procedure is used against the innocent majority. It's not like this type of event was difficult to foresee either when the policy started: I recall reading on here "What happens when one of the TSA pat down my kid" etc.

It's a classic case of a lack of empathy towards other people by the people that come up with these rules. I wonder how many of them get frisked in such a fashion? If we saw Hillary Clinton on TV with a TSA member putting their hands "palm side down...inside her waistband" it might reassure people that this is a universal measure, but we don't because it would never happen.

Instead, people are expected to endure this behaviour which most are taught to regard as molestation, plain and simple. There is also the uncomfortable truth that this kind of search is only really valid against people having materials strapped to the outside of their bodies and that suspicious people should be identified long before they buy a ticket and set foot in the airport.

They need to profile intelligently regardless of PC notions, when a passenger could be endangering the lives of hundreds of people on an aircraft, this can and should take precedence over civil liberties. They need to have body language experts, lie detectors, ask pertinant questions, deploy bomb-sniffing dogs (which would be FAR more effective and be a big deterrant to potential bombers), body scanners, but at the end of the day if somebody has a bomb inside them, there is very little you can do if they have gotten to that point in the security check or actually boarded the flight without actively driving people away from flight en masse with body cavity searches.

The point I disagee with is the person saying that no child under 6 has ever been involved in a terrorist incident, therefore they are no risk. They are low risk, but they are a weak point which is likely to get exploited in the future if our enemies consider it to be a chink in the armour just like the cargo weakness was focussed on. The enemy's objective is to create terror and a state of constant fear, and they certainly appear to be able to do this with very little investment on their part, while the US and its allies spend billions...

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