TSA to address hair pat-downs after racial targeting complaints

TSA to address hair pat-downs after racial targeting complaints
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The Transportation Security Administration has agreed to address their policies of patting down people's hair after complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that African-American women were being targeted.

TSA officials said Wednesday that have reached “an informal agreement with the ACLU to enhance officer training” on the pat-downs. 

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“Racial profiling is not tolerated by TSA,” the agency said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. “Not only is racial profiling prohibited under DHS and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic.”

The ACLU’s Northern California office had filed a complaint on behalf of a woman who complained her hair was unfairly searched by TSA officials at airports in Los Angeles and Minneapolis in 2013. 

ACLU officials said the woman who was at the center of the complaint, California resident Malaika Singleton, was targeted for extra airport screening solely because of her hairstyle. 

“The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is 'different' is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents' time and resources," Novella Coleman, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. 

TSA officials said pat downs are typically conducted when airport security screeners identify “anomalies” on X-ray scanners that need to be resolved before passengers can be allowed to board flights. 

The ACLU said in its April 2014 complaint that Singleton was cleared after her hair search each time without incident. 

“TSA agents grabbed her hair and proceeded to squeeze it from top to bottom,” the complaint argued. “Both times finding nothing, they allowed Malaika to continue on her way.” 

The civil rights group said it is important to address the potential for racial discrimination in the hair searches. 

“When TSA agents are faced with ambiguous evidence or forced to apply subjective rules, it is more likely that they will unconsciously interpret the circumstances in a way that is consistent with racial stereotypes,” the group said.

“Both the United States and California Constitutions prohibit unreasonable searches and selective enforcement of the law based on race,” the ACLU continued. “And although the law has carved out exceptions for airport screening, a search must still be tailored to detect threats to security. That legal requirement cannot be satisfied when there is no clear policy for detecting threats to security. In this case, TSA agents were unable to provide a uniform reason to justify these searches when asked to articulate such a policy.”