Green Room

TSA Detains Young Mother Over Breast Milk

posted at 1:32 pm on December 5, 2010 by

Someone needs to feed Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole a reality sandwich. His presumption that the conversation over the invasive screening techniques used by his agency would become yesterday’s news after Thanksgiving reveals how out of touch he is.

Part of the problem for Pistole and the TSA going forward is that, despite the lack of ugly incidents attending the Thanksgiving rush, the majority of Americans have yet to experience the TSA’s warm hospitality at airport checkpoints. The Christmas holidays just a few weeks off will bring a whole new round of opportunities for undertrained agents to dig deep into the underdrawers of innocent grandmas and toddlers.

Another part of the problem is that each new day brings new examples of TSA incompetence. The latest outrage to become part of the national conversation is a morality play that took place in February of this year. The players were TSA airport screeners and a 30-year-old mother flying out of Phoenix with her 7-month-old son. When the mother refused to let TSA personnel x-ray a supply of breast milk she had expressed, she was detained, even though the law was on her side.

Prior to traveling to the airport, the woman, Stacey Amato, had consulted the TSA website, where the guidelines on breast milk are clearly spelled out:

TSA is also modifying the rules associated with carrying breast milk through security checkpoints. Mothers flying with, and now without, their child will be permitted to bring breast milk [emphasis theirs] in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it is declared for inspection at the security checkpoint.

Breast milk is in the same category as liquid medications. [Emphasis added]

Although the next several paragraphs are slightly ambiguous—they seem to suggest simultaneously that breast milk is waived but is subject to further inspection—the page stating the TSA policy on liquid medications is crystal clear:

We normally X-ray medication and related supplies. However, as a customer service, you may ask that Security Officers visually inspect your medication and associated supplies. [Emphasis added]

Which is precisely what Stacey Amato did. Not only that, but she presented the TSA agent with a paper copy of the rules, which she had printed out following an earlier run-in at the same gate at the airport for the same “offense.” The agent glanced at the paper, said “well, not today,” and then escorted Amato and her baby to a secure area, where they spent the next hour in confinement. As if to add injury to insult, the mother and child missed their flight.

During her detention Amato was interviewed by a Phoenix police officer, who, she maintains, told her that the agents had recognized her from the earlier incident and “had it out for her.” She further states that the officer recommended that she fly out of a different gate in the future. He also advised her that if refused to cooperate, he would be forced to arrest her.

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Cross-posted at Libertarian Examiner. Follow me on Twitter or join me at Facebook. You can reach me at howard.portnoy@gmail.com or by posting a comment below.

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I don’t understand the outrage here. The low-level X-rays aren’t going to contaminate the breast milk. Breast milk isn’t high-speed photographic film, sensitive to X-ray. Is the woman worried that the container will becomed soiled passing through the X-ray machine? I’m sure it could be covered with a cloth.

This isn’t the case cited earlier where a woman was asked to drink her own breast milk to prove it was harmless. This seems to me a reasonable request.

Please explain the problem.

njcommuter on December 5, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Did this get any coverage in the local Phoenix press?

cthulhu on December 5, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Please explain the problem.

njcommuter on December 5, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Er, they don’t follow their own guidelines and then punish you for pointing it out to them? Why have the hand inspection exception at all if you don’t intend to abide by it.

And what’s the point of detaining her and going through this nonsense? How does this make us safer again?

Please explain the reason.

Asher on December 5, 2010 at 2:20 PM

THe milk doesn’t go through the backscanner. It goes through the baggage x-ray. Yes, the chemical composition of irradiated food can change.

She didn’t want her baby drinking irradiated milk. Whether you would or not is immaterial. She was allowed to request a visual inspection, and they had no rational basis to refuse.

SarahW on December 5, 2010 at 2:56 PM

What people don’t seem to understand is that:

Freedom = crazy and stupid

We are Americans because our forefathers fought for our right to be crazy and stupid, including the right to not feed our babies irradiated food. Whether the fear is rational or not is entirely beyond the point; these agents weren’t even following their own guidelines.

gryphon202 on December 5, 2010 at 5:12 PM

Whether the fear is rational or not is entirely beyond the point; these agents weren’t even following their own guidelines.

gryphon202 on December 5, 2010 at 5:12 PM

And they actively punished someone for pointing it out to them (the police officer certainly seems to think so too, as pointed out in the post). And not crazily pointing if out to them either; I saw the video and the mom was calm the whole time.

inviolet on December 5, 2010 at 8:06 PM

And they actively punished someone for pointing it out to them (the police officer certainly seems to think so too, as pointed out in the post). And not crazily pointing if out to them either; I saw the video and the mom was calm the whole time.

inviolet on December 5, 2010 at 8:06 PM

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the mother in-question was necessarily crazy or stupid. What I’m saying is that when everything crazy and/or stupid is legislated against, we will be living in a tyranny — and the “conservatives” that supported measures such as the TSA screening will wonder where it all started.

gryphon202 on December 5, 2010 at 8:42 PM

What is the saying? “We should be more like Europe”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/8182194/Hand-luggage-liquid-ban-to-be-eased-from-April.html

DWB on December 5, 2010 at 8:52 PM

The YouTube download of the tape of this incident shows that it took place on February 1, 2010.

Jasper61 on December 5, 2010 at 9:58 PM

The YouTube download of the tape of this incident shows that it took place on February 1, 2010.

Indeed it does. Thank you for calling that to my attention. I will emend the article accordingly.

Howard Portnoy on December 5, 2010 at 11:46 PM

Please explain the problem.

njcommuter on December 5, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Please read the story.

uknowmorethanme on December 6, 2010 at 8:41 AM

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the mother in-question was necessarily crazy or stupid. What I’m saying is that when everything crazy and/or stupid is legislated against, we will be living in a tyranny — and the “conservatives” that supported measures such as the TSA screening will wonder where it all started.

gryphon202 on December 5, 2010 at 8:42 PM

It was the “conservatives” who told everyone they were just looking for contraband, you know, for the War on Drugs.

Now they are upset because the precedent they set is being used against them?

Suck on it. This is what you get.

uknowmorethanme on December 6, 2010 at 8:44 AM

I repeat: please explain the problem. You have an opaque liquid, in which things could be hidden. Could be explosives. Could be cocaine or heroin. X-raying it is not unreasonable. The levels, even in baggage scanners, are quite low, not much more radiation than you’ll get from the flight. This isn’t high-intensity gamma-irradiation, to which some might object.

Now, if you are objecting that the TSA folk don’t know their own rules, great. But the likelyhood of harm from X-raying a few ounces of breast milk is vanishingly small. The inconvenience was small. Unless someone can convince me, based on real physics and chemistry, that there is anything approaching a real risk here, I’m more concerned about scientific ignorance–the same kind of ignorance that leads to worries about cell towers.

Worried about cell towers? Even though the towers put out thousands of times more energy than your cell phone, when you use the phone, you’ll absorb less RF if you’re close to the tower than if you are far away from it. Yes, you heard me. The phone adjusts its transmission to provide just enough power to give the tower a clear signal, less when the tower is closer, more when it is further away. And because of the inverse square law, if the tower and the phone put out the same power, with the tower 800 meters away, you would get 100 million times as much RF from the phone as from the tower. Round numbers, to be sure.

Our principles are important. But so are the facts. If you apply the principles to grossly false “facts”, you make mock of them and make it easy for others to take them away.

njcommuter on December 6, 2010 at 9:35 AM

I don’t understand the outrage here. The low-level X-rays aren’t going to contaminate the breast milk. Breast milk isn’t high-speed photographic film, sensitive to X-ray. Is the woman worried that the container will becomed soiled passing through the X-ray machine? I’m sure it could be covered with a cloth.

This isn’t the case cited earlier where a woman was asked to drink her own breast milk to prove it was harmless. This seems to me a reasonable request.

Please explain the problem.

njcommuter on December 5, 2010 at 2:11 PM

The problem apppears to be a lack of understanding of the technology. Don’t feel bad about that as you have a lot of company in that area. The baggage scanner and the rapiscanners used on people have nothing in common with a camera other than they produce a visual end result. They do have a lot in common with your microwave in your kitchen. They both use microwaves, which is a form of radiation. What effect will radiation have on DNA laden breast milk? No one knows. We do know the rapiscan machines do damage DNA and put the victim at risk of cancer with each use. Putting a cloth over it is not going to help anything.

In the same line of thought, do make sure they change gloves before they touch you or anything you own. If not and later you wonder how you managed to catch a sexually transmitted disease, like herpes for example, there you go. Same goes with wiping down anything they touched with their hands before you touch it.

Franklyn on December 6, 2010 at 8:33 PM