TSA’s Expensive Scanners Can’t Figure Out Afros Or Turbans, So Guess Who’s Getting Searched More Often

The TSA accidentally admitted years ago that its (annoying) presence at airports was extraneous. Summoned into existence by the 9/11 attacks, the TSA was nothing more than an obsolete government fixture a few years later. With terrorism being pretty much ground-based at this point in time, we’re left to wonder why we still need to jump through all the TSA’s hoops just to board a plane agents haven’t made any safer with their elaborate security pantomime.

The TSA may not be able to find any bombs headed for planes, but it will leave no baby stroller/terminal disease sufferer unturned in its quest to justify its continued existence. It may not be able to stop terrorists, but it will not let an inert souvenir go uncrowed about on its blog or social media accounts.

Instead of doing anything useful, the TSA busies itself with the busywork of looking busy. To ensure maximum harassment of travelers, it’s adding things like this to its list of annoying traits:

The futuristic full-body scanners that have become standard at airports across the United States are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color.


Two officers interviewed by ProPublica said the machines’ alarms are frequently triggered by certain hairstyles.

“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. “Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.”

A government report in 2014 found that the machines also “had a higher false alarm rate when passengers wore turbans and wigs.”

We’re spending an awful lot of money to increase the perception of racial bias by the TSA. Turbans, wigs, and “black hair:” that’s 2/3rds of a Stormfront post being funded by tax dollars and inflicted on people whose heads have been deemed more “suspicious” by machines that answer to no one.

The more you read of this ProPublica report (written by Brenda Median and Thomas Frank), the more ridiculous it gets. The TSA’s attempt to talk its way out of this mess is cringe-worthy and inadvertently hilarious. I don’t know what this is, but it’s one of the least credible things an anonymous official has ever said:

A senior TSA official said in an interview that hair pat-downs are not discriminatory and are done when a body scanner indicates that a passenger has an object in his or her hair. “I get a hair pat-down every time I travel. I’m a white woman,” said the official, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named.

Do tell. Fill me in with the details while I notify @_DHOTYA. As a “senior TSA official,” I doubt she’s getting patted down on a regular basis, much less her hair… much less getting patted down AT ALL, really.

The TSA also believes its covered because it once said something about this on a website few travelers read.

The TSA advises passengers to remove all items from their hair before going through airport security and warns on its website that “wearing a hairpiece, extensions or a wig as well as a ponytail, a hair bun or braids” may trigger an alarm.

Dear TSA,

Just because you’ve posted your stupid warning about hair bombs to your website doesn’t make this particular search any less stupid. How do I know? Well, I picked it up from something you said.

The TSA would not say if it had ever found a weapon in a passenger’s hair.

Yeah, that’s a “no” in any other language. Trust me, if the TSA had ever found a weapon or bomb precursor or child porn or a bag of drugs in anyone’s hair, it would have been covered by all major new outlets and we would all — not just those of us with turbans or non-straight hair — be subjected to the sort of head prodding we haven’t seen since the heyday of phrenology.

So, for $150k/per, we’re getting “state of the art” scanners that can’t detect metal like our older, dumber metal detectors or spot actually suspicious objects encased in human hair. Whatever bias the expensive scanners can’t provide, agents can create for themselves. As the TSA points out, hair searches are at agents’ discretion. Hair styles and types agents find more suspicious than others can result in head patdowns, so long as they clear this ultra-low discretion bar:

…if “an individual’s hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.

We’re paying billions a year for this it’s-funny-because-it’s-oh-so-very-unfortunately-true comedy. We all need to line up for a refund.

Permalink | Comments | Email This Story