Suppose you forget to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag while passing through security at a U.S. airport. How should the TSA “resolve” that issue?
You might think the resolution would involve sending the laptop through the scanner again, this time in its very own bin. It might also include swabbing the laptop to see if it tests positive for explosive residue, based on the dubious supposition that a terrorist with a bomb in his laptop would invite such scrutiny by flouting the well-known rule regarding portable computers. But even that extra measure seems downright sensible compared to what a TSA agent at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport did on Sunday after a 13-year-old boy mistakenly left his laptop in his backback: He repeatedly patted the boy down, paying extra attention to his thighs, buttocks, and waistband, even though the kid had passed through the body scanner without setting off any alarms.
In a Facebook post that has elicited considerable outrage, the boy’s mother, Jennifer Williamson of Grapevine, Texas, says he has a sensory processing disorder that makes him especially sensitive to being touched. She therefore asked if he could be screened in some other way, which of course was simply not possible. Williamson’s video of the pat-down suggests the boy reacted with more equanimity than his mother, who described the experience as “horrifying.” It is especially puzzling that the agent seems to have completed the pat-down a couple of times, only to feel the same areas again. The TSA says the examination, which took about two minutes, was witnessed by two police officers “to mitigate the concerns of the mother.”
Williamson evidently did not find the cops’ presence reassuring. “We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side,” she says. “Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause need to be reined in.” Several hours later, she says, her son was still saying, “I don’t know what I did. What did I do?”
In addition to the pat-down, the TSA screened “three carry-on items that required further inspection.” Williamson says she and her son missed their flight because all the extra attention delayed them for about an hour. The TSA says it was more like 35 minutes. Or maybe 45. According to CBS News, “The TSA said the procedures performed by the officer in the video met new pat-down standards that went into effect earlier this month.” The TSA told CNET “all approved procedures were followed to resolve an alarm of the passenger’s laptop.”
The problem, in other words, is not “power tripping TSA agents” who get their jollies by feeling up boys. The problem is the protocol, which makes no sense and, judging from most of the comments in response to Williamson’s post, is not even effective as security theater.