The Transportation Security Administration is studying its policy on hair pat-downs after receiving complaints that African-American women are being targeted at airports.
The TSA launched an investigation after being contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and now the agency has reached an informal agreement with the advocacy group "to enhance officer training" on the pat-downs, according to The Hill
"Racial profiling is not tolerated by TSA," the agency said in a statement. "Not only is racial profiling prohibited under DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic."
The ACLU office in northern California had filed a complaint on behalf of Malaika Singleton, who claimed she was improperly singled out for searches in 2013 at airports in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.
The civil rights organization alleged that Singleton, a California resident, was targeted for extra airport screening by TSA officials because of her hairstyle, The Hill reported.
"The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is 'different' is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents' time and resources," said Novella Coleman, an ACLU attorney in California.
TSA officials usually conduct pat-downs, including possibly the probing of a woman's hair, when airport screeners identify "anomalies" on X-ray scanners. But the ACLU said that rule left open the potential for racial profiling against African-American women, The Hill noted.
"When TSA agents are faced with ambiguous evidence or forced to apply subjective rules, it is more likely that they will unconsciously interpret the circumstances in a way that is consistent with racial stereotypes," the civil liberties group said.
"Both the United States and California Constitutions prohibit unreasonable searches and selective enforcement of the law based on race. And although the law has carved out exceptions for airport screening, a search must still be tailored to detect threats to security.
"That legal requirement cannot be satisfied when there is no clear policy for detecting threats to security. In this case, TSA agents were unable to provide a uniform reason to justify these searches when asked to articulate such a policy."
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