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TSA defends flyer nipple-ring removal

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March 28, 2008
By Audrey Hudson

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today stood
by its decision to require a Texas airline passenger to remove a nipple ring
with pliers before boarding a flight, but says more discreet screening procedures
may allow the sensitively placed piercings to be worn in the future.

"TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger
involved and regrets her discomfort with the situation," said TSA spokesman
Christopher White.

"In the future, TSA’s procedures will meet the security need while giving
additional flexibility for this kind of screening situation," Mr. White
said. "This could include a visual inspection without removal."

Mandi Hamlin, 37-year-old graphics artists, says she was forced to remove the
nipple ring with pliers on Feb. 24 before boarding Southwest Flight 35 from
Lubbock to Dallas.

Gloria Allred, Ms. Hamlin’s lawyer, read from a letter to the TSA during a
video teleconference Thursday asking the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties
to investigate the incident.

"After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing,
and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove," Allred
said in the letter.

"Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove
it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her," said
Ms. Allred.

"This encounter was one that she will never forget," Ms. Allred said.

"The conduct of TSA was cruel and unnecessary. The last time that I checked
a nipple was not a dangerous weapon," Ms. Allred said.

Mr. White said security screeners properly followed procedures during the Feb.
24 incident when they asked Mandi Hamlin to remove the piercings. One was removed
easily, but the skin had grown over the second piercing stud and Miss Hamlin
asked for the pliers to remove it.

TheTSA defends the extra scrutiny saying that terrorists have hidden dangerous
items in "sensitive areas of the body" in the past.

"We have a duty to the American public to resolve any alarm that we discover,"
Mr. White said. "Incidents of female terrorists hiding explosives in sensitive
areas are on the rise all over the world. This scenario must be addressed at
our nation’s airports."

On Nov 28, 2007, in Sri Lanka, a woman linked to the Tamil Tiger terrorist
organization detonated a bomb from her bra, killing herself and one other.

Click here to watch
video
of the Tamil Tiger female suicide bomber who hid an explosive in her
bra. Warning: Graphic content.

TSA’s Web site informs passengers that body piercing may prompt additional
screening procedures and that they may be asked "to remove your body piercing
in private as an alternative to a pat-down search."

"Our security officers are well-trained to screen individuals with body
piercing in sensitive areas with dignity and respect while ensuring a high level
of security," Mr. White said.

"TSA is well aware of terrorists’ interest in hiding dangerous items in
sensitive areas of the body, therefore we have a duty to the American public
to resolve any alarm that we discover," Mr. White said. "This scenario
must be addressed at our nation’s airports."

Source URL: http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080328/NATION/77879709/1001