by Brenda Medina, ProPublica, and Thomas Frank, special to ProPublica // The futuristic full-body scanners that have become standard at airports across the United States are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color.
In a request to vendors last summer, the TSA asked for ideas “to improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.” That law bars federally funded agencies and programs from discriminating — even unintentionally — on the basis of race, color or national origin.
Two officers interviewed by ProPublica said the machines’ alarms are frequently triggered by certain hairstyles.
“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. “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.”