TSA child pat-down video spurs new legislation

A woman undergoes a pat-down during TSA security screening, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) Ted S. Warren

In the wake of controversy over video of a six-year-old girl receiving an intense pat-down while passing through airport security, a Tea Party-linked Republican is introducing legislation to prohibit pat-down searches of minors without the consent and presence of a parent.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah introduced the bill on Wednesday and sent a letter to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole calling the incident a "shocking violation" of TSA protocol.

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

The video in question shows a female TSA agent patting down the young girl at New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport security on April 5. The girl's mother asks, "Can't you just re-scan her?" to which the agent replies, "No." The agent explains all of her actions to the girl and her mother as she pats down the girl and appears to conduct the pat-down in a professional manner. Still, civil rights advocates say the pat-down was unnecessary.

"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 ACLU Louisiana, told CBS affiliate WWL New Orleans.

As head of the subpanel on national security in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz held a hearing last month on TSA policies and alleged misconduct. Last year, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa complained to Pistole about the 2009 screening of a four-year-old disabled boy, who was forced to go through a metal detector with neither his leg braces, nor his father's assistance.

Chaffetz said he blames such incidents on a failure of TSA leadership to address the problem.

"The agency must get serious about the manner in which it seeks to balance national security with personal privacy," he said. "At the very least, it cannot continue to operate under the belief that little girls and handicapped children pose such a serious threat that [transportation screening officers] must abandon all manner of decency when interacting with them."

With respect to the latest incident with the six-year-old girl, the TSA said in a statement that the agent followed proper screening procedures. The statement added that the agency is "exploring additional ways to focus its resources and move beyond a one-size fits all system while maintaining a high level of security" and "has been actively reviewing its screening policies and procedures to streamline and improve the screening experience for low-risk populations, such as younger passengers."

On CBS' "The Early Show" Wednesday, CBS News national security correspondent Bob Orr said this kind of incident is "part of the post-9/11 security."

"You can't take kids out of the mix," he said. "The exemption would point terrorists to a gaping hole in our security. It's not a theoretical threat. Terrorists have proven they can smuggle explosives aboard planes... The bottom line is al Qaeda is savvy, study our security system and practices, and it's not beyond al Qaeda to use kids."

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