Children 12 years old and younger soon will no longer be required to remove their shoes at airport security checkpoints, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress on Tuesday.
The new policy also includes other ways to screen young children without resorting to a pat-down that involves touching private areas on the body.
Napolitano said during a Senate hearing on the terror threat to the U.S. that the changes would be rolled out in the coming months. But the Transportation Security Administration later said the changes would be rolled out in weeks rather than months.
Napolitano said there may be some exceptions to keep airport security unpredictable. Terrorists have plotted to use children as suicide bombers, and some children still may be required to remove their shoes to keep security random.
"There will always be some unpredictability built into the system, and there will always be random checks even for groups that we are looking at differently, such as children," she said.
Many travellers have complained that the TSA does not use common sense when it screens all air travellers the same way, including young children and the elderly.
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Criticism escalated last year when the government began using a pat-down more invasive than what had been used in the past, one that involves screeners feeling a traveller's genital and breast areas.
Earlier this year, TSA introduced a modified pat-down for children 12 and under and later announced it would look at ways to screen children through other methods to reduce the number of pat-downs provided to them.
To reduce the number of pat-downs given to children, screeners will soon be told to send children through metal detectors or the walk-through imaging machines multiple times to capture a clear picture and use more explosive trace detection tools such as hand swabs, according to the TSA.