US revamping intrusive airport screening process: TSA chief

In his latest testimony before a Congressional panel, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole said his agency was in the process of overhauling the system to focus on intelligence gathering and targeting those travellers the TSA knows the least about.

"Since I became TSA administrator, I have listened to ideas from people all over this country," he told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

As a result, Pistole said, the agency is moving in the new direction by expanding several pilot security programmes and changing the way children are searched at airport security checkpoints.

A test programme that began last month at four American airports — Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta — lets passengers who volunteer personal information zip through a special screening lane without having to remove their shoes or jackets, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Pistole told lawmakers that it has worked so well that he wants to expand it to more airports.

"We are working closely with other airlines and airports to determine when they may be operationally ready to join," he said.

Pistole's comments came amid growing complaints over the new airport security procedures - revealing full-body scanners and intrusive "pat-downs" for those opting out of scans.

Travellers who refuse to be screened via new full body scanners - in use at over 60 US airports - must undergo an extensive hand search.

In another programme that was tested at Boston's Logan International Airport, special behavior detection officers chat with passengers in the terminal to detect suspicious behaviour.

Pistole said the TSA also has changed its policy for searching children younger than 12. TSA agents now have the discretion to pat down youngsters or require them to remove their shoes.

In November last year, a video of a child being subjected to intrusive body search at Salt Lake City International Airport by burly TSA officials had angered many Americans.

"By streamlining procedures for these lower-risk passengers through programmes like these, TSA is better able to focus its finite resources on those who pose higher risks to transportation," he said.

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