Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Good Behavior Could Win You a Quicker Trip through U.S. Airport Security

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Good Behavior Could Win You a Quicker Trip through U.S. Airport Security

Article excerpt

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is experimenting with using behavioral detection to pick some travelers for a faster, less onerous form of security screening for domestic flights.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is taking another step back from its one-size-fits-all security screening program that requires all airline passengers to remove their belts, shoes and coats at checkpoints.

The agency already makes some exceptions, among them allowing some frequent travelers who have passed background checks to move more quickly through security -- a process called PreCheck for passengers traveling within the United States.

Now the agency is testing a behavior detection program in which 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 in Tampa, Florida. If the tests are successful, the agency plans to expand the program to more airports this year.

The idea is to identify certain passengers who appear to pose no threat and invite them to use lanes dedicated to the PreCheck program, which 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 that 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 the Thanksgiving holiday in late November. Nearly a third of all passengers were chosen to go through a dedicated PreCheck lane, rather than the usual proportion, which is 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 screening machines.

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. …

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