TSA: Nipple rings a terrorist risk?

A Texas woman had to remove her nipple rings with pliers before being allowed to board a flight in Lubbock, and has now filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Agency for the incident. Mandi Hamlin says she was publicly humiliated, but TSA insists that it followed its procedures, even though their website notes that passengers can opt for a private pat-down as an alternative to removing piercings and other body jewelry:

Hamlin, 37, said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock to Dallas on Feb. 24 when she was scanned by a Transportation Security Administration agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.

The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin’s chest, the Dallas-area resident said.

Hamlin said she told the woman she was wearing nipple piercings. The agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the jewelry, Hamlin said.

Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked whether she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was out, she said.

She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.

“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 Hamlin’s attorney, Gloria Allred, reading from a letter she sent Thursday to the director of the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties. Allred is a well-known Los Angeles lawyer who often represents high-profile claims.

I understand that TSA has to follow its guidelines strictly in order to maintain flight security. I fly a few times every year, and the knowledge that we have tough screening makes me feel better about getting on airplanes, although I am at best a white-knuckle flier. It’s a tough job made tougher by passengers who unreasonably object to the screening processes.

Having said all that, how does a nipple ring constitute a threat to flight security? Unless someone has created a breast bomb, a nipple piercing should be of no consequence to TSA. Hamlin even offered to have the TSA agent conduct a visual inspection, and would have consented to a pat-down. Instead of taking a common-sense approach to the issue, the TSA agents and their management have used a “rules are rules” defense that show the need to revise the rules for sanity.

Hamlin still boarded the flight with her navel piercing installed. One could only imagine what would have happened had Hamlin had other, more intimate piercings at the security stop in Lubbock.

We need tight security for our air travel, but we need to ensure that those enforcing it remain focused on actual security rather than just the rules. Someone owes Hamlin an apology. (photo via Instapundit)

Update: I’ve been reading the comments, and I think we’re missing the point.  The purpose of the pre-flight screening is to eliminate security threats, not to enforce a no-jewelry policy.  If someone can show how a nipple bar or ring could constitute a security threat, then I’d be sympathetic to the notion that they have to be removed before the flight.  Shoes and water bottles can hold material that could be used in an attack, as can jackets, bags, and so on.  If nipple bars present no threat, why should TSA be concerned about them?  Shouldn’t they be focused on real threats?