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The Rutherford Institute

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December 13, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC — Warning that the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) current methods for screening children can cause severe emotional and psychological harm, The Rutherford Institute has asked the TSA to overhaul its procedures on pat-down searches and other enhanced security measures in order to respect the rights of parents to stand guard over their children and protect them from unwarranted, overtly intimate treatment at the hands of strangers as a matter of course in boarding an airplane. In a letter to the Administrator of the TSA, The Rutherford Institute points to instances where TSA child screening bordered on child molestation, including the case of a Texas family who alleged a TSA agent groped their 13-year-old daughter during an unwarranted pat-down search in August 2018.  The Institute urges the TSA to adopt reforms that protect children and parents by modifying the manner in which pat-downs of minors are conducted in order to limit physical contact, increasing transparency about what a pat-down of a child will entail, and making sure that parents are immediately present if and when their child is patted down.

“No American should be subjected to a virtual strip search or excessive groping of the body, or have their underage children touched intimately by strangers as a matter of course in boarding an airplane when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “In both word and deed, the TSA operates as if members of the public and their children have no rights and no defense against the agency and its employees even if an agent assaults them, wrongfully detains them, or fabricates criminal charges against them. However, parents do not forfeit their rights when they travel by air with their children.”

According to Rutherford Institute attorneys, current TSA procedures for child screening show indifference to the emotional well-being of children and disregard for the constitutional rights of parents to care for and protect their children. In a letter to David P. Pekoske, the Administrator of the TSA, the Institute advises that modifications should be made that not only limit the instances of pat-downs, but also their intrusiveness, and that require parents be directly present during any pat down of a minor in order to the reassurance and comfort a child needs during this intrusive procedure. Institute attorneys cite several instances which undergird the need for security protocols that better respect the right of parents. For example, earlier this year, a Texas family asked The Rutherford Institute to intervene after one of their children suffered emotional trauma in the course of a TSA screening that included a pat-down of the young girl’s body. In August 2018, The Rutherford Institute was contacted by the McAdams family regarding a disturbing incident involving TSA screening at Reagan National Airport before boarding a flight to their home in Texas. According to the McAdams’ report, their 13-year old daughter was ordered by TSA agents to submit to a pat-down search even though the daughter and her parents asked that she be allowed to be screened using the scanner. Surveillance video obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that the daughter was taken away from the area where her parents were and subjected to a full-body pat-down. The pat-down was no different from those that adults would be subjected to: the TSA agent ran her hands over the entirety of the girl’s body, including extremely sensitive areas on her legs and chest. All of this was done despite objections by the girl’s parents, who made it clear to the agents that she had not previously experienced this kind of physical contact with a stranger and feared it could have a negative psychological impact upon her.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.