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What Can the TSA Get Away With In the Name of Security?

  • Kristina Evans
  • Mar 31, 2017 3:41PM

Airports are always a flurry of activity, but this week they’ve been a hotbed of news stories. During the same time as #LeggingsGate, Jennifer Williamson posted a video on Facebook Sunday that showed her son, Aaron, enduring a two-minute, invasive pat down from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

In her original post, Williamson writes about their two-hour ordeal, believed to have been brought on because Aaron forgot he had a laptop in his book bag. The TSA told Williamson that her son would have to submit to a pat-down even though he did not set off the body scanner. She asked the agents to screen her son in “other ways” because he has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). In an oversimplification of the condition, SPD is a neurological disorder where those affected are overly sensitive to environmental stimuli and have trouble processing and responding appropriately. Williamson said that her family were “treated like dogs.” Two DFW Airport police officers were also called in to pat down her son, “flanking him on each side.”

The video shows the TSA agent patting Aaron down thoroughly along his body with both the front and back of his hands, including running fingers along the inside of shorts, the front of his shorts, and in-between his thighs. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the video, please do. It is honestly one of the creepiest things I’ve seen in awhile. I do not understand how anyone watching wasn’t disturbed by Grandpa Gropes-A-Lot thoroughly examining a 12-year-old child in such a way.

“I believe he was patted down excessively,” Williamson told reporters in an interview. “They went over his sensitive areas, a little more than necessary, especially given that he wasn’t wearing bulky clothing or anything like that.”  The TSA has since reached out to the Williamson family, explaining that the procedure was completed to standard but that they welcomed feedback to improve their processes.

"TSA engaged in conversation with Ms. Williamson to learn more about her family’s screening experience at Dallas Fort Worth airport. While the proper procedures were followed, we appreciate her feedback and look forward to continued dialogue. TSA has a long standing partnership with a coalition of disability advocacy groups, community-based organizations and individuals, and we welcome Ms. Williamson’s input. TSA is committed to ensuring the security of travelers, while treating all with dignity and respect."

It seems as though this will be the new trend. As of March 2, the TSA announced an elimination of multiple types of physical pat-downs in favor of a single, universal approach. The change is partly the result of an undercover audit in 2015 by the Inspector General’s Office of Homeland Security that revealed major lapses in security. There were even warnings that police and the security organization itself were expecting more complaints as they described the new physicals as “intimate.”

That’s clearly what everyone wants: to become more physically intimate with some TSA agents.