TSA Body Scanners Disproportionately Target Women of Color, Report Says
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
A report published by ProPublica claims that people of color, specifically women, are disproportionately targeted for additional screening by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) body scanners as a result of popular hairstyles worn predominantly by women of color.
The report cites testimony from a TSA officer, personal accounts from women of color, and a government report from 2014 that says body scanners have a “higher false alarm rate when passengers wore turbans and wigs.”
“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” a TSA officer told ProPublica. “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.”
Dorian Wanzer, an African American woman who travels frequently for work told ProPublica she feels “singled out” when she is asked to step aside. “It happens with my natural Afro, when I have braids or two-strand twists. At this point in my life I have come to expect it, but that doesn’t make it any less invasive and frustrating.”
The TSA has acknowledged the concerns of women of color last summer by asking its vendors to “improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” a law that bars federally funded agencies and programs “from discriminating — even unintentionally — on the basis of race, color or national origin.” It also announced back in 2015 that it would stop targeting African American women’s hair during pat-downs.
When a body scanner detects an area on an individual that the machine is unable to properly scan or that could house a prohibited item, travelers are required to receive secondary screening. This secondary screening is typically a pat-down of the region. For travelers with hair that triggers body scanners, a “hair pat-down” will be carried out by a TSA agent of the same gender. The TSA has even posted a video on its website going over what to expect during a hair pat-down.
Travelers who are selected for additional screening have few options. If flagged, you can choose to receive secondary screening publicly in the screening area or in a private area, which may include more invasive screening procedures. If you believe that you have been targeted unfairly during the TSA screening process, you can contact the TSA directly and file a complaint through this link.
The Points Guy has reached out to the TSA for comment but did not receive a response upon time of publication.
For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.
Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.