October 1, 2020

On the Road: Fast Airport Screening Is in Store for More

That’s terrific news for most frequent travelers, who have been envious of the relatively small number of select fliers who are so far able to use PreCheck, which allows preapproved travelers to use special security lanes when flying on participating airlines at 40 airports, without having to take laptops out of bags or remove shoes, belts, light outerwear and some other articles.

So why is it that I am a little skeptical about the prospects for a timely realization of this initiative?

It’s a work in progress, and a welcome one, too. But let’s just say the agency hasn’t exactly been on a roll lately. Last month, the director, John S. Pistole, was maneuvered by flight attendants’ unions and their supporters in Congress into an embarrassing retreat from a rules relaxation that he had previously insisted would stay in place — one allowing passengers to carry small pocketknives. A month before that, under Congressional orders, the T.S.A. removed from checkpoints the last of about 250 widely criticized Rapiscan body-scanner machines, which it had vigorously defended for years against claims that the X-ray technology invaded personal privacy.

The agency didn’t make Mr. Pistole available for comment on the new PreCheck plan. But on July 19, when he first announced the expansion to an applauding audience of security policy makers, corporate technology representatives and news media at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Mr. Pistole deftly dodged a question about the retreat on pocketknives. Instead, he changed the subject to what he has described as the agency’s main concern, the overriding potential threat posed by terrorists with concealed explosives.

Certainly, there has been little opposition to the idea of expanding PreCheck, which began in October 2011 with enrollment mainly limited to the highest-level elite-status fliers nominated by participating airlines. Later, PreCheck also became available to those enrolled in Global Entry, a popular Customs and Border Protection program that lets travelers returning from abroad re-enter the country without enduring long lines at passport control and Customs. Instead, they use special fast-pass kiosks where their fingerprints are verified. About 700,000 travelers are now enrolled in Global Entry.

Mr. Pistole, who has referred to the new PreCheck initiative as “Global Entry Lite,” has long advocated reducing the focus on the things passengers carry, while emphasizing multiple levels of so-called risk-based security, including trusted or known-traveler programs. He said earlier that roughly 40 million of the 640 million passengers who annually pass through security at the nation’s 450 commercial airports were frequent fliers, mainly business travelers. These fliers are presumably “known and trusted,” and as such are prospects for lighter security measures.

The PreCheck expansion will start this fall with enrollment centers at two airports, Washington-Dulles and Indianapolis. More enrollment centers will be opened as PreCheck is significantly expanded beyond the 40 airports where it is now in place. In the first year, the T.S.A. estimates that about 383,000 people will be processed.

Applicants apply online, entering information for a background check and paying an $85 fee. They then report to enrollment centers for fingerprinting. Within three weeks, an approved passenger will receive a Known Traveler Number that allows PreCheck eligibility to appear on airline boarding passes. Enrollment centers will be opened throughout the fall at airports nationwide, an agency spokesman said.

As I said, enrolling 25 percent of travelers by the end of this year sounds pretty optimistic. Global Entry, for example, is so popular that many new applicants report long waits for appointments at some enrollment centers for fingerprinting and a personal interview. A personal interview isn’t required for PreCheck. Still, new enrollment centers will need to be built, in many cases at airports where security areas are already seriously crowded and limited by space.

Airport managers welcome broadening PreCheck as “the best thing since sliced bread,” said Christopher Bidwell, the vice president for security and facilitation at the Airports Council International-North America. But he added that some managers wondered “what it’s going to look like at smaller airports that need to make space available for new enrollment centers” once the program expanded widely.

The T.S.A. guidelines for airports using PreCheck, incidentally, require that the special lanes use the old-fashioned walk-through metal detectors, which allow passengers to be screened while carrying nonmetallic items like wallets and wearing belts or light jackets. That would seem to thwart the T.S.A.’s expensive years-old plan to eventually replace all walk-through metal detectors with new body-scan machines that can detect anything on the body or in clothing, not just metal. While the Rapiscan X-ray machines are now gone, similar body-scanners that use less controversial millimeter-wave technology remain in place at most checkpoints. Once PreCheck expands, more metal detectors will need to be put back into service, I would think.

As I said, it’s a work in progress.

E-mail: jsharkey@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/30/business/fast-airport-screening-is-in-store-for-more.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

On the Road: T.S.A. Experiments With Behavior Screening

The agency already makes some exceptions, including allowing some frequent travelers who have passed background checks to move more quickly through security — an E-ZPass, of sorts, called PreCheck for passengers traveling in the United States.

Now, the agency is testing a new behavior detection program where officers use on-the-spot observations and conversations with passengers to select some for the quicker pass through the checkpoint.

The program, which the T.S.A. calls “managed inclusion,” is being tested at airports in Indianapolis and Tampa, Fla. If the tests are successful, the agency plans to expand the program to more airports this year.

The idea is to selectively identify certain passengers who appear to pose no threat and invite them to use lanes dedicated to the PreCheck program that the agency began in October 2011.

For several years, the T.S.A. has been looking for alternative screening methods to address public dissatisfaction with the current system. But one of those methods, behavior science, has its own critics, who warn of the potential for racial and ethnic profiling. Some critics also question whether the T.S.A. gives adequate training to its behavior detection officers. The officers had been receiving only four days of training, though the agency said recently it was expanding the program to provide “additional specialized training.”

One reason for the expanded program, the agency’s administrator, John S. Pistole, said, is to “make sure that the T.S.A. PreCheck lanes are being fully utilized” throughout the day, rather than just at peak hours. In a year-end report to employees, Mr. Pistole cited as an example what occurred at the Indianapolis airport on the day before Thanksgiving. Nearly a third of all passengers were chosen to go through a dedicated PreCheck lane, rather than the usual less than 5 percent, he said.

David Castelveter, a T.S.A. spokesman, explained how managed inclusion would work if the test phase was deemed successful. “As you are in the queue, behavior detection officers will be observing you, and if they feel that there is nothing that alarms them, you might be asked to come out of the queue, and invited to go through the PreCheck lane,” he said. Behavior detection officers, some with explosive-sniffing dogs, already routinely survey checkpoint lines.

Given the random nature of managed inclusion, there are no guarantees that anyone waiting in a regular checkpoint line will be invited to use one of the exclusive PreCheck lanes. “From time to time you might be pulled out of the line” and invited to use PreCheck, Mr. Castelveter said. Those passengers are able to keep their shoes on and their laptops in their cases, though they still have to go through metal detectors or body-imaging machines at the checkpoints. Their carry-ons are also still put through magnetometers.

It seems to me that the managed inclusion initiative is notable because it is based on the on-site judgment of behavior detection officers, rather than on the background checks that the PreCheck program requires.

Behavior detection officers use techniques familiar in some overseas airports, engaging passengers in casual conversation to look for suspicious behavioral clues.

But the Government Accountability Office has raised questions about the technique. In a 2010 report evaluating the T.S.A. behavior detection program, the G.A.O. cited a National Academy of Sciences study that said “a scientific consensus did not exist on whether behavioral detection principles could reliably be used for counterterrorism purposes.” The T.S.A. disputed that, saying the study did not specifically address airport security, and adding that it was conducting its own detailed research.

PreCheck, which is now at 35 airports in the United States, is still limited in scope. The T.S.A. said PreCheck was used five million times last year. It is open to high-frequency travelers selected by the five major airlines that so far participate — Delta, United, American, US Airways and Alaska. The T.S.A. is working with other domestic airlines to increase participation.

Once they are cleared in background checks, those invited passengers are eligible for boarding passes encoded to allow them to use PreCheck lanes. But randomness is deliberately built into PreCheck, so eligible passengers have no guarantee that they will be allowed to use a PreCheck lane on any given trip.

In addition to the high-frequency passengers selected by airlines, members of the Global Entry program of the Customs and Border Protection agency also are eligible for PreCheck. Global Entry costs $100 for five years and requires a background check and a personal interview. It provides expedited entry via an automated kiosk for airline passengers arriving from overseas, usually allowing them to avoid long lines at Customs and immigration.

I recently got a Global Entry card. The whole process, including the online questionnaire and the subsequent personal interview and fingerprinting at a Customs office, was easy to navigate. Enrollment information is at www.Globalentry.gov.

Managed inclusion, incidentally, is only one of several initiatives that Mr. Pistole has been proposing for this year to expand the population of so-called trusted travelers eligible for less intense checkpoint security. Security experts say that the more frequently people travel, the more “trusted” they become, since their travel patterns are easily determined. Of the roughly 640 million passengers who pass through T.S.A. checkpoints in a year, as many as 40 percent are frequent travelers, “the same people time and time again,” Mr. Pistole said.

Another possible initiative is what Mr. Pistole calls “Global Entry Light.” Details have not yet been worked out, but the basic idea is to adopt some aspects of the international traveler Global Entry program for domestic use by the T.S.A. At a lower enrollment fee, and perhaps with participation by private companies, Global Entry Light would offer expedited screening to qualifying domestic travelers who don’t also travel enough internationally to need the regular Global Entry.

That would be another part of the T.S.A.’s increasing effort this year to “move away from the one-size-fits-all construct” in airport screening and greatly expand the population of so-called trusted travelers eligible for PreCheck, Mr. Pistole said.

E-mail: jsharkey@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/business/tsa-experiments-with-behavior-screening.html?partner=rss&emc=rss