Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently announced that children will no longer be required to remove their shoes at airport security checkpoints and also will not be subject to pat-down searches. Instead, their hands will be swabbed for explosives if the situation warrants.
First, let me make clear that this is a step in the right direction. I applaud any move that scales back some of the ridiculous security theatre that goes on in the United States and I have yet to hear any valid justification for why the TSA has to touch children, or anyone for that matter. There is no question that children *may* pose a threat and have been used in the past to wreak havoc, but there are certain values we as a free society must prize more than security (or in this case, the illusion of security) that include dignity of personhood and a rejection of the idea that people are guilty until proven innocent. The invasive pat-down of a child is an indication of a society living in fear and a security paradigm that invests far too many resources into combating a minor threat.
But the motives behind the Department of Homeland’s Security about-face on this issue should be questioned. Just a few months ago, TSA Administrator John Pistole flatly rejected loosening screening for children stating, “Unfortunately we know that terrorists around the world have used children as suicide bombers.” If treating children just like adults was necessary to provide effective security, then the TSA was foolish to change policy. A government agency playing politics is not particularly noteworthy, but it is interesting that an organization that has steadfastly insisted that children pose a security threat is suddenly altering course.
Did the TSA suddenly have an epiphany that the threat that children may pose has been exaggerated or did the TSA just cave into the vocal protests and media scrutiny that has resulted from recent high-profile cases of invasive children’s pat downs posted on You Tube? If the latter, I have even less faith in the TSA to effectively secure U.S. airports, though in this case I like the result even if I do not like the true motive behind the change.
In reality, a threat knows no age, gender or race–it could be anyone and no matter how much we screen or profile, we never know who is truly a threat. Is the answer to that a scaling back of security or a tightening of it? Given that all prospective attackers over the last decade have penetrated airport security checkpoints but been stopped by passengers, I would argue that we simply do not need the heavy-handed airport security measures we currently endure.