Napolitano: TSA changing airport screening practices for children

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told senators on Tuesday that new screening practices will be unveiled in the next several months for children under 12 years old traveling on airlines.

The majority of children passing through airport screening will not have to take off their shoes and will be subject, with less frequency, to a revised pat-down by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, Napolitano said.

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Lawmakers have vocally criticized the TSA over the past year for its enhanced screening techniques used on airline passengers, especially with regards to young children who screeners have been accused of “groping” because of the rigorous methods.

Napolitano said her department has begun training the thousands of TSA officers who provide security at airports in the revised procedures and expects to see the new procedures unveiled soon.

“We have also been piloting programs to deal with children under the age of 12 with respect to not only taking off their shoes but also pat-down procedures and we hope over the coming weeks and months to be able to begin rolling that out,” she said in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The new screening methods for young children will not exclude all kids from being screened, said Napolitano, who stressed the need for random checks to keep potential terrorists wishing to exploit the young passengers in their attack plots. 

“There will always be some unpredictability built into the system and there will always be random checks even for groups we are looking at differently, such as children under the age of 12, but I think the traveling public will begin to see some of these changes really in the coming months,” said Napolitano.

Napolitano said the new approach was part of a larger shift by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the TSA toward a risk-based method of screening, which places in part a more intent focus on passengers who have traveled recently to countries known for supporting terrorist activity.

“We do want to move and are moving to a more risk-based approach to screening passengers [and] try to streamline screening for those passengers who are low risk, which enhances our ability to focus on passengers who we either don’t know or who are high risk,” she said.