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TSA faces ire of states, Conan spoof

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  May 13, 2011 10:26 AM

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First the rising anger of state legislators in a dozen states and now Conan. It's a tough time for the TSA.

We wrote on Tuesday about the recent controversy sparked by a Twitter photo that went viral on the Internet of TSA agents patting down at baby at Kansas City International Airport. The photo fed the already flaring dispute over allegations of invasive security procedures at airports around the nation. If you needed further evidence that the issue has captured the attention of Americans, there is this spoof of the incident that ran Wednesday night on Conan O'Brien's show.

We have noted that there is a bill moving through the Texas legislature that would place limits on patdowns, basically making genitals off-limits. USA Today ran a wrap-up today, pointing out that Texas is not the only state looking at similar restrictions. Besides Texas, legislation to limit invasive security checks has also been introduced in New Jersey, Hawaii, and New Hampshire. And nonbinding resolutions calling for the TSA to ease up on screening have surfaced in seven other states.

The TSA introduced the more thorough patdowns last fall, citing an incident in which an airline passenger was accused of smuggling a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009. Recognizing the rising anger of passengers over more intensive scans and frisking, John Pistole, the TSA administrator, disclosed last week that the agency was working on a "trusted traveler'' program that would allow some passengers on some flights to skirt scans and patdowns.

Besides the baby frisking flap, a series of recent high-profile incidents have raised public awareness of the issue. Last month, a YouTube video of the patdown of a 6-year-old girl by TSA officials ignited a stir over the agency's practices. And a couple of weeks after that a new YouTube video showed a teary former Miss USA Susie Castillo, a Massachusetts native, criticizing airport screeners, alleging they touched her genitals multiple times as part of a "full-body patdown'' after she refused to go through a body scanner, fearful of exposure to radiation.

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