Increased Turban Screening at US Airports
August 22, 2007
Author/Source: Priyanka Kaur, International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy, United SIkhs
It's Official - Increased Turban Screening at US Airports Sikh Organizations Alarmed at Lack of Consultation or Prior briefing
Washington DC -United Sikhs calls upon Sikhs who encounter random turban screening at airports to request that the screening is done in private. In order to help us provide feedback to the authorities, please email us the details of your experience at email@example.com and state Reporting Turban Screening' in the subject column .
The Transportation Security Administration ( TSA ) held a belated briefing yesterday on the revised procedures of screening head coverings at US airports after Sikh organizations including United Sikhs expressed dismay at the lack of consultation and prior briefing.
On Aug 4th , the TSA implemented revised Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines at US airports which involved the patting down of a Sikh Turban even if a scanner alarm was not set off. Under the original Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, which were formulated after consulting the Sikh community, a Sikh Turban was only patted down to resolve a scanner alarm.
United Sikhs discovered the new screening procedures when it received complaints from Sikhs, including our Director, Kuldip Singh, whose turban was patted down at San Francisco airport even though the scanner alarm had not sounded. We contacted the TSA and requested a meeting to discuss the implications of the revised procedures. The Turban is worn by Sikhs to cover their unshorn hair, an article of the Sikh faith. Under the original FAA procedures, a Sikh was only asked to remove his turban to resolve an alarm and the procedure was conducted in a private area.
We have expressed our concerns for the lack of a pilot to study the effect of such random screening. The lack of consultation and prior briefing suggested that the new procedures were formulated in a hurry, said Harpreet Singh, United Sikhs legal director who attended the briefing.
Kevin Donovan of the TSA stated that the new procedures were necessary due to an emerging threat of improvised explosive devices (IED) and chemical weapons hidden under head coverings. The turban, as well as cowboy hats, and baseball hats were specifically referred to in the revised procedures. The Jewish yarmulke is unaffected by the new procedures. The TSA refused to provide a copy of the procedures and guidance provided to the TSA security personnel. TSA officials believe that patting down the turban will give them the opportunity to detect non-metal objects that could be hidden in the turban.
Mr Donovan added that it is up to TSA security personnel to determine if a Sikh Turban will be patted down.
The Sikh community shares the concern for security but we regret the arbitrary nature of the procedure. What criteria will a security personnel use to decide if a Sikh Turban is patted down when the alarm is not sounded? Harpreet Singh asked TSA officials who refused to provide details.
United Sikhs and other Sikh organizations which attended the briefing have been assured that the TSA is open to dialogue' to ensure that security concerns are met and that the civil liberties of Sikhs are protected. The TSA has agreed to call a further meeting to discuss the drawing up of specific guidelines.
In the meantime, United Sikhs calls upon Sikhs who encounter random turban screening at the airport to request that the screening is done in private. In order to help us provide feedback to the authorities, please email us the details of your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org and state Reporting Turban Screening' in the subject column.
The briefing yesterday was attended by members of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil liberties and members from TSA 's office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
Representatives of the Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee ( ADC ) and the Muslims Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) also attended the briefing.