Is the US moving towards an airline security system that will be permanently tougher on passengers from certain countries?
That appears likely – if it wasn’t already the case – following the Obama administration’s move to subject travelers from Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and 11 other countries to mandatory full-body pat-downs, and other extra screening methods, beginning Monday.
Civil rights groups and Muslim anti-discrimination organizations have long complained about a slide towards security measures that are close to racial profiling. But US officials defended the new rules as common-sense moves that are not racial in nature.
“The new directive includes long-term sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners ... effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders,” said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) statement announcing the move.
In some ways, the new rules are a step back from current procedures. Following the failed Christmas Day attempt to bomb a jetliner as it approached Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam, virtually all international air travelers to the US have been subject to extra security procedures.
With the new rules, only people who carry passports from, or are traveling from or through 14 listed countries, will automatically be subject to full-body pat-downs, extra luggage checks, and full-body scans and explosive detection sweeps, according to the TSA.
Other travelers can still be subjected to the more intrusive screening, but it will not be automatic. Authorities instead will look for suspicious behavior or other cues. The 2002 shoe bomber, Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his shoes, had a British passport and traveled from Paris.
Initial reports on Monday indicated that the new security directive was causing confusion in international airports and was not yet fully in place.
In Europe, there was no visible change in screening methods, according to wire service reports. Similarly, Associated Press reporters found no change at airports in Syria, Libya, or Lebanon – countries on the watch list.
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