The future of passenger screening and airport security

The airport security model used in the United States today is basically “you’re guilty until proven innocent”. Appropriately dubbed “security theatre” by many, it is a completely reactionary system with new technology and procedures introduced after each terrorist event or incident. Last Christmas we had the underwear bomber, and now have the incredibly controversial body scanners and/or enhanced pat downs as a result. Don’t get me wrong, I agree we need a level of safety and security, but I question the effectiveness of our current model. And so does the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

I view IATA as sort of the global overlord of the airlines, and its stated mission is to “represent, lead and serve the airline industry.” Mostly behind-the-scenes for the common traveler, IATA is integral in many areas of managing electronic ticket policies, organizing the scheduling process (including slot controls at airports), and certifying non-U.S. travel agencies among a myriad of other activites. This agency, then,  should then be the active voice the airlines need to side with as fellow blogger Matthew Klint called for last month.

On Tuesday last week, IATA’s CEO and Director General Giovanni Bisignani called airport security, “an incredible mess… it’s unbelievable… the hassle factor is absolutely unacceptable at many, many airports around the world.”  Even the IATA Director of Security Ken Dunlap explained that body scanners “don’t really belong as a primary screening method.” Instead, IATA is proposing the system below:

I would absolutely love the electronic pre-screening model, but I suspect that would be an additional level of privacy invasion for many and open to enormous debate. We basically already have a similar system in place for frequent travelers with the CLEAR program, but it operates on an opt-in basis, costs just under $200 annually, and is only offered at extremely few airports. How deep of an electronic data screening that would take place isn’t explained, so I wonder if it would go so far as viewing credit reports and tax return data. I certainly wouldn’t mind volunteering that much detail, but know a lot of people who would. I can already hear the criticism of this method, though, being that terrorist organizations will then actively recruit people with known traveler status to bypass the enhanced levels.

At the minimum, I was happy to hear an authoritative voice come out and agree the current method is an issue on so many levels. And while I don’t like the fact that I can be viewed nude in a body scanner or have my crotch groaped, I am not an opt-outer and will comply for now with a minimum of fuss. As being reported elsewhere, the TSA can and does make it inconvenient for you if you opt-out, so I just take the path of least resistance for now and comply until a more realistic screening and security process unfolds.

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