TSA Amends Sikh Screening Policy
After an outcry from Sikh and other religious groups, the United States Transportation Security Administration altered its policy for screening airport passengers with head coverings last week.
First implemented last August, the controversial policy mandated that cowboy hats, berets, and turbans require additional screening such as removal or pat down—regardless of whether not a metal detector has been set off.
Over the course of a few weeks, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) received more than 50 formal complaints ranging from confusion to outrage over policy as it related to turban screening, said the group’s national director, Rajbir Singh Datta.
Public removal of the turban is “akin to a strip search,” Datta said, in an interview with IT. He was also concerned that Sikhs were being religiously profiled and that searching anyone wearing a turban would reinforce negative, unfounded stereotypes about the community.
“My turban signifies my duty to my faith,” said Datta, who has never shown his hair in public. While he described his organization’s meetings with TSA as “pretty productive,” he was concerned at the lack of communication about the change in policy. TSA has been working with SALDEF since 2001 to draft security policies that are sensitive to the Sikh community, he said. But in this instance, there was “zero communication” about the change or why it was occuring.
The new policy removes specific mention of turbans and requires consent before screening head coverings. “Every person wearing bulky clothing item is going to receive additional attention,” said TSA spokesman Christopher White. But the new procedures “allow more discretion to the officer to involve the passenger.”
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Perhaps most important, says Datta, is that passengers know their rights.They now have several options available to them, including patting down their own turban or asking for a private screening area at any time. In light of the confusion, SALDEF and other groups have create a Sikh Traveler’s Guide to advise people of their rights and what to expect at an airport screening.
IT welcomes you to send us your opinions on this issue, or your own airport screening experiences.
Photo: Department of Homeland Security, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties