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TSA to refrain from patting down children

WASHINGTON -- The government has made a change in its policy for patting down young children at airport checkpoints, and more are promised.

Airport security workers will now be told to make repeated attempts to screen children without resorting to invasive pat-downs, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said yesterday. The agency is working to put that change in place around the country, and it should reduce, but not eliminate, pat-downs for children, an agency spokesman said.

There was public outrage in April over a video of a 6-year-old girl getting a pat-down in the New Orleans airport. She was patted down, John Pistole said, because she had moved during the electronic screening, causing a blurry image.

That kind of pat-down was put in place partly because of the Nigerian man who got past airport security with explosives hidden in his underpants and tried to use the bomb to bring down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009.

This screening has been criticized as being too intrusive and an unnecessary measure for children and older people who seem to pose no terror threat.

Last month, a picture of a baby being patted down at Kansas City International Airport gained worldwide attention as well. The baby's stroller had set off an alert of possible traces of explosives, so the screeners were justified, the agency said, in taking a closer look at the boy cradled in his mother's arms.

Pistole, testifying at a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said TSA has been working on other policy changes for screening children.

Terrorists in other countries have used children as young as 10 years old as suicide bombers, Pistole said, although that hasn't happened in the United States. "We need to use common sense," he told lawmakers.

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