Revisiting often questioned TSA practices

A few days ago, the TSA received flack for invading a 95-year-old woman’s privacy beyond the capability of an X-ray machine or a pat-down.

Lena Reppart was one of the three percent of airline travelers pulled aside for a pat down through airport security to fly from Florida to her native Michigan June 18. As if the process of being groped by a stranger wasn’t awkward enough, the security agent encountered a dilemma–Reppart’s adult diaper was full, and they couldn’t let her through the checkpoint without knowing for certain what the liquid was.

To make her flight, Reppart removed her diaper in the bathroom and went through security again, this time without a hitch.

Even more so than 8oz of shampoo or a water bottle, the prospect of a terrorist sneaking a bomb onto a plane through a used diaper seems preposterous and comical, even. But this is what TSA representative Sari Koshetz had to say:

“TSA cannot exempt any group from screening because we know from intelligence that there are terrorists out there that would then exploit that vulnerability.”

I can understand this logic. We can’t just pull aside people who vaguely resemble Osama Bin Laden for “random” screening – not only because that’s racist – but because who’s to say that a 95-year-old, white, American woman doesn’t have a reason to commit an act of terror? The safety of American citizens is obviously important, and if that means we have to check a diaper, then we have to check a diaper.

As much as I value safety, though, I also value privacy – though the Reppart’s screening was in a private room, she still had to discuss her adult diaper with complete strangers and proceed to travel without any underwear. In what other circumstance would that be acceptable?

However, if the TSA is going to continue to enforce this rule, I would challenge them to be consistent.

Just a few days ago, they announced that they would attempt to avoid pulling aside children for intrusive pat downs, after a video of an agent searching a 6-year-old girl went viral in April. (Note: it has since been removed.) Just as they cannot exempt elderly women from their policies, they shouldn’t eliminate children–particularly those who are still in diapers who could smuggle mysterious liquids through security.

Under this amended policy, children would only be searched if their parents raised a “red flag” – but what constitutes a “red flag”? Reppart’s “red flag” was her diaper; so logically, wouldn’t an adult traveling with a young child wearing a full diaper raise a “red flag,” as well?

I’m honestly not sure if I’m convinced whether or not in-flight terrorism is really thwarted because of TSA security measures. Is it worth it to get an extra dose of radiation every time I pass through an x-ray machine or to have a woman run her hands down my thighs? Maybe it is. However, I’m sure it’s not in any way helped by the fact that TSA does pick and choose who are subject to extra screening.

Maybe people get pulled aside because they are every-25th-passenger, because they have metal joint replacements that set off the metal detectors, because they have brown skin and beards or because they are wearing adult diapers. I would say that an overwhelming majority of these people aren’t terrorists, but what about the seemingly non-descript 24th passenger? Or the man with a full-diapered baby?

Unfortunately, it isn’t feasible to thoroughly examine everybody who passes through an airport, and it wouldn’t be safe to stop examining them altogether. These half-way practices do, at least, make people feel safe, which might be all we can ask for.