WASHINGTON — The government has made a change in its policy for patting down young children at airport checkpoints, and more are promised.
Airport security workers will now be told to make repeated attempts to screen children without resorting to patdowns, the Transportation Security Administration head said yesterday. The agency is working to put that change in place, and it should reduce, but not eliminate, patdowns for children.
There was public outrage in April over a video of a 6-year-old girl getting a patdown in New Orleans. She was patted down, John Pistole said, because she moved during the electronic screening, blurring the image.
That kind of pat-down was put in place partly because of a Nigerian man who got past airport security, boarded a plane with explosives hidden in his underpants, and tried to use the bomb to bring down the airliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009.
But this screening has been criticized as being too intrusive and an unnecessary measure for children and older people who seem to pose no terror threat.
Last month, a picture of a baby being patted down at Kansas City International Airport gained worldwide attention as well. The baby’s stroller set off an alert of possible traces of explosives, so the screeners were justified in taking a closer look at the boy, the agency said.
Pistole, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said TSA has been working on other policy changes.
Terrorists in other countries have used children as young as 10 years old as suicide bombers, Pistole said, although that has not happened in the United States.
“We need to use common sense,’’ he told lawmakers.