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TSA changes policy to avoid pat-downs for kids

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

Airport security workers will now be told to make repeated attempts to screen young children without resorting to invasive pat-downs, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.

The agency is working to put that change in place around the country, which should reduce, but not eliminate, pat-downs for children, a spokesman said.

In April, a video of a 6-year-old girl getting a pat-down in the New Orleans airport produced public outraged. She was patted down, TSA Administrator John Pistole said, because she moved during the electronic screening, causing a blurry image.

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

But pat-downs have been criticized as being too intrusive and an unnecessary measure for children and older people who seem to pose no threat.

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

Pistole, testifying at a hearing on transportation security before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said his agency has been working on other policy changes for screening children. An announcement will come soon. 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 State. "We need to use common sense," he said.

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