Homeland Security chairman to TSA: ‘Reconsider’ pat-downs

House Democrats have asked the Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) to “reconsider” agency screeners’ new invasive pat-downs
of airline passengers.

In a letter Friday to TSA Administrator John Pistole, Reps.
Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee,
and Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the agency should rethink the new
screening procedures in light of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, typically
the busiest travel time of the year.

“While we agree that security measures should be enhanced in
the wake of recent attempted terrorist attacks on the aviation system, we are
concerned about new enhanced pat down screening protocols and urge you to
reconsider the utilization of these protocols. With Thanksgiving Day marking
the beginning of the busiest travel season of the year, this request is
timely,” Thompson and Jackson Lee write in their letter.

The new pat-down screenings have faced a public uproar as
airline passengers have complained about their invasiveness. Combined with new
body scanners at security checkpoints that capture naked body images, the TSA
has found itself under increased public scrutiny.

The lawmakers say members “expressed concern” about the
pat-down procedures when they were briefed on them in September. They ask
Pistole for a number of documents, such as a privacy impact assessment, regarding
the new pat-down procedures and say TSA screeners need more training, citing an
inspector general report detailing weaknesses in the agency’s training program.

Thompson and Jackson Lee criticize the agency in their
letter. They say TSA should have done a better job of informing the public
about the new screening procedures while also making sure to better protect
their civil rights.

“Before implementing this new more invasive pat down
procedure, as a preliminary matter, TSA should have had a conversation with the
American public about the need for these changes. Even before that
conversation, TSA should have endeavored to ensure that these changes did not
run afoul of privacy and civil liberties,” they write.

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