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TSA Finally Ready to Try Risk-Based Airport Screening

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Passengers providing more personal information could be ushered through special lines for faster screening. (Photo: Stock.xchng)
Passengers providing more personal information could be ushered through special lines for faster screening. (Photo: Stock.xchng)


  • US security finally moving towards risk-based searches
  • TSA introduces multi-million-dollar initiatives for enhanced machine to deter terrorists
  • TSA say new machines have no privacy issues because names are immediately deleted

Those not enthralled with the US’s one-size-fits-all airport security checks may take a small measure of rejoicing: The government is now moving slightly towards a more risk-based and intelligence driven model.

The move was only one of several multi-million dollar initiatives for better security announced recently by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Pre-Check Trial Launched at 4 US Airports

The TSA has announced a “Pre-Check” type of trusted traveler pilot program at four major US airports. Passengers who voluntarily provide more personal information get a trade-off: in return, passengers might be able to move faster through security lines. TSA officials say passengers providing the information could be ushered through special lines for faster screening.

Exactly what steps participants might be able to avoid, such as the removal of belts and shoes, was not spelled out by the TSA. No one is guaranteed a quicker screening, the TSA pointed out, adding that random and unpredictable security steps will still be used at the airports.

Their action follows a steady stream of complaints about full-body pat downs and often questionable actions by the TSA in searching infants and the elderly.

"By learning more about travelers through information they voluntarily provide, and combining that information with our other layers of security, we can focus more resources on higher-risk and unknown passengers," John Pistole, head of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, said in prepared remarks.

The voluntary test program includes travelers enrolled in Delta Airlines frequent-flier programs or three other government-trusted traveler programs. They are known as Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. The programs all involve passengers who travel through Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta) International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airports.

The program also includes travelers enrolled in American Airlines frequent-flier program or the other programs who travel through Miami International and Dallas-Fort Worth airports.

The program should have gotten underway by now. TSA officials estimate the various programs will involve somewhere between 5,000 to 8,000 travelers daily. If the program is successful, it could expand, but no time line was presented by officials.

Pistole promised that the new system held “great potential” to strengthen security while “significantly enhancing the travel experience whenever possible for passengers.”

TSA Announces New Machines To Improve Security

In another security move, the TSA early next year will begin using machines that test a traveler’s boarding pass with his or her government-issued ID. The machines are set to verify that both documents are authentic.

The machines will augment efforts of TSA “travel document checkers” who manually compare the two documents.

An Indiana University doctoral student a few years ago showed how a known terrorist could on the “no fly” list could use a fake boarding pass go get past a checkpoint. When the “fake” subject arrived on the other side of the check line, he or she could use a real boarding pass acquired under a fake name to board the plan.

The new technology will authenticate government-issued IDs by comparing written information on the card with information encoded in the ID's bar codes, magnetic strip or computer chip.

TSA officials say the system will alert screeners if documents do not pass validation.

If a security issue can be easily fixed, such as a misspelling, the TSA may allow the person to proceed. If not immediately resolved, the passenger will be directed to a TSA supervisor.

The TSA has awarded contracts of $79 million each to three companies: Trans Digital Technology, LLC, BAE Systems Information Solutions and NCR Government Systems. The companies will provide 10 machines for testing at US airports. The TSA has not disclosed which airports will get the machines.

The TSA in a report said the machines have minimal privacy implications because only a limited amount of personal information is collected and because this information "is deleted after use."

A TSA spokeswoman said the technology was previously tried at two airports in Washington nearly two years ago.

Wave Advanced Imaging Technology

In yet another recent action, the TSA announced it was spending $44.8 million to buy Wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines for employment nationwide. The machines will have so-called recognition software designed to enhance passenger privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images.

At the same time, the TSA says the new machines will help streamline the checkpoint screening process. A schedule for deploying the new machines has yet to be announced.

“Advanced imaging technology is one of the best layers of security we have to address the threats of today and tomorrow,” said Pistole.

Key Statistics - Global Airport Security and Screening Market

  • Worldwide expenditures on airport passenger screening systems rose to $10 billion and is still climbing. (source: Visiongain)
  • World airlines pay $7.4 billion each year for aviation safety and security. (source: International Air Transport Authority)
  • Annual revenues since 9-11 have risen from about $200 million to $883 million last year, reports major airport screening equipment provider UK-based Smiths Group. (source: The Guardian)
  • The cost of transferring passenger data from the airlines to government authorities is $14 per flight or more than $100 million annually. (source: International Air Transport Authority)

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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