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Friday, October 12, 2007

TSA Holds Community Meeting in Washington, Begins Responding to Some Concerns

Profiling, Data Collection Remain Top Issues

he Sikh Coalition participated in a meeting today organized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The meeting, attended by TSA Chief Kip Hawley, provided community organizations an opportunity to understand TSA operations and to raise concerns about TSA policy. The Sikh Coalition directly raised reliigous profiling concerns to Administrator Hawley at the meeting.

Action by TSA in Response to Concerns Raised by Sikhs
Since the Sikh Coalition first alerted the community to the new TSA headwear search policy, we have worked hard to raise Sikh concerns directly to the TSA, Members of Congress, Senators, and the media.

In response the TSA has taken a number of steps to address community concerns:

* The Headwear Search Policy is Being Reevaluated - While we do not yet know what the modified policy will be, we do know that it is being revised in response to Sikh community concerns.

* The TSA is Advising its Screeners to Offer Air Travelers the Option of Going Though Trace Portals (Puff Machines) as an Alternative to Manual Patting Down- In airports with these machines, air travelers should now be offered the alternative of going through these machines instead of a pat down of the turban.

* The TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties will visit San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Investigate Complaints from Sikhs There - The Coalition has filed a number of complaints from Sikhs traveling through SFO. The worst incident, involving the removal of a turban and placing it through an x-ray scanner, occurred there. The TSA's Office of Civil Rights will travel to SFO to investigate these complaints in late October.

* The TSA's has Updated its Website to Make Complaint Filing Easier -There is now a link for "Civil Rights Complaints" on the front page of the TSA website, www.tsa.gov.

* The TSA will Make Available the "On Common Ground" Video in its Online Learning Center - The video is a concise introduction to Sikhs and Sikh practices. It will be mandatory, required viewing for all screeners.

* The TSA has Issued an Educational Poster on Common Sikh Coverings for all Airports - this poster will be distributed for viewing by screeners in all airports.

* The TSA will Issue a Fact Sheet for Travelers on its Headwear Search Policies - The fact sheet will be posted on the TSA's website. Its purpose is to inform the public on what to expect when going through security.

Concerns Remain

While the Sikh Coalition commends the TSA for taking or committing to take important steps towards addressing our issues, we remain concerned that:

* The TSA guidance on how to implement the policy specifically lists the turban as an example of headwear that can be subjected to secondary screening at the discretion of the screener.

* Religious profiling is possible, even inevitable, if screeners have unfettered discretion to subject a Sikh to additional screening. The Coalition expects that the TSA will have adequate controls in place, including the collection of data on who is stopped by screeners, in order to make good on its pledge not to engage in profiling.

* It is not clear what threat items could be hidden in a turban that could not be hidden in any other article of tightly-fitted or bulky clothing. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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