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TSA body search upsets local woman

San Diego Union-Tribune | October 13 2004

A new layer of security at the nation's airports last month caught a Mira Mesa woman by surprise. Now Ava Kingsford wants other women to know just how uncomfortable the "secondary screening" process can become.

Kingsford, 36, was traveling back to San Diego from Denver International Airport with her 3-month-old son when she was flagged for a pat-down search, possibly because of an expired driver's license.

She took the procedure in stride until the female Transportation Security Administration screener announced, "I'm going to feel your breasts now."

Kingsford, wearing a snug-fitting tank top, objected to what she considered an unduly invasive search. More security agents arrived, warned her that she couldn't board her flight without submitting to the final step of the search, and the situation escalated.

"I was crying; I was shaking," she said. And just after she tugged down the top of her shirt just a bit to show that she wasn't hiding anything, the agents told her she wasn't going anywhere. She ended up renting a car for a two-day drive home.

"It was unbelievable," Kingsford said. "I think there is a line they cannot cross."

But Transportation Security Administration officials say their screeners did nothing wrong and that Kingsford's experience reflects a brutal new reality in passenger checkpoint screening.

The agency announced the extra security measures Sept. 16, just a few weeks after two Russian jetliners exploded in midair, killing all aboard. Authorities believe two women smuggled explosives onto the aircraft, possibly in "torso packs" underneath their clothing.

Bob Kapp, customer service manager for the TSA in Denver, said that to conduct a thorough pat-down search of women, "it does require going beneath, between and above the breasts."

In these first few weeks of the procedure, Kapp said, "a few people have been a little bit alarmed" by the touching. But he called it "a sign of the times" that is probably here to stay. Screeners are coached to try to minimize the discomfort by explaining each step as they go along.

Kingsford, however, thinks there ought to be some common sense to the approach and that the TSA is going to get a lot more complaints.

"There is nothing that I could possibly have been hiding there," she said.

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