09 Dec Diplomatic Pat-Downs
The government of India is protesting TSA’s “humiliating” pat-down of its ambassadress to the United States.
On Dec 4, [Ambassador Meera] Shankar was subjected to a rigorous public “pat down” at the Jackson-Evers International Airport after a visit as a guest of the Mississippi State University.
According to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Shankar was singled out from a group of 30 passengers and pulled aside. Witnesses told the paper that she was chosen as she was wearing a sari.
Amid the uproar, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) asserted that diplomats are not exempt from the searches. Shankar “was screened in accordance with TSA’s security policies and procedures”, spokesman Nicholas Kimball said in Washington. A number of factors could prompt a pat-down search, including bulky clothing, but he said the agency did not generally discuss specific cases.
Can we be surprised that this happened in Mississippi? The state’s lieutenant governor was quick to condemn the action: “Although I understand we need proper security measures to protect the passengers in US airports, I regret the outrageous way Indian Ambassador Shankar was treated by the TSA while visiting Jackson.” Got to worry about foreign investment!
The question for diplomatic immunity experts is whether TSA pat-downs are consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, article 29 of which provides:
The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.
Whether or not it constitutes a violation of the VCDR, TSA might as a policy matter send the word on down the line that diplomats should get kid- (not plastic-) glove treatment at airport checkpoints.