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Gibbs: Airport security policies 'have to evolve'

By the CNN Wire Staff
TSA officers check bags at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
TSA officers check bags at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • White House spokesman stops short of calling for changes
  • Some travelers complain that enhanced pat downs are too intrusive
  • TSA says enhanced security is necessary for now

Washington (CNN) -- Airport security policies "have to evolve" to ensure the safety of passengers while minimizing invasive procedures such as enhanced pat downs, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

Gibbs stopped short of signaling any imminent change in the enhanced screening, which some passengers complain amounts to legal groping.

However, Gibbs made clear that the government is open to adjusting the procedures in response to public feedback and intelligence gathered on possible plots.

"This is a process that, based on intelligence and based on feedback, is and will continue to evolve and change." Gibbs told reporters, adding the goal is to "maximize the security and protection and minimize that invasiveness."

He noted that airport screening has evolved in recent years to include the banning of most liquids, removing shoes and other steps in response to specific threats, and added: "The policies have to evolve."

Travelers who set off metal detectors at airport security are asked to undergo extra screening. If they refuse to go through an enhanced visual device that shows the body through clothing, they are required to submit to the thorough pat down in order to fly.

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Incidents such as last December's failed bombing of a U.S.-bound flight by a man with explosives in his underwear and the recent detection of explosives in air cargo packages from Yemen prompted the enhanced screening.

However, the more thorough pat-down process has generated alarm and anger, with some travelers complaining they were given little warning of the procedure and that they felt violated by the touching of private parts.

In interviews and statements Sunday and Monday, the head of the Transportation Security Administration said the enhanced screening was necessary for now, but the policies could be revised as time goes on.

"We welcome feedback and comments on the screening procedures from the traveling public, and we will work to make them as minimally invasive as possible while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement released Sunday. "We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security."

Pistole also told CNN that the outcry over the new screening was overblown.

"Very few people actually receive the pat down. In spite of all the public furor about this, very few people do," he said.

On Friday, Pistole issued a public service video announcement offering travelers guidance on what to expect from TSA security officials ahead of the holiday travel season.

"As you enter the checkpoint, you'll be directed to go through either a walk-through metal detector, or in some airports, an Advanced Imaging Technology -- AIT -- unit," he said in the video.

"If you are directed to pass through an AIT, you may opt out. If you choose to opt out you will receive a thorough pat down by someone of the same gender," he said. "We very much appreciate your involvement, cooperation and assistance in assuring the safety of you, the traveling public."

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