TSA

TSA Pre-Screening, Now With Access to Your Shopping Habits

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Three stooges TSA agents

The Transportation Security Adminstration wants a little help with its trusted traveler program. More to the point, the TSA is looking for private providers who can demonstrate some competency in pre-screening travelers who volunteer for the process in search of a quicker route through the airport that involves, perhaps, a bit less fondling and probing. Along those lines, the TSA issued a market research request for information last week "to obtain market research, test, and demonstration information relative to the possible expansion of expedited aviation physical screening initiatives." The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned that this is just another step toward a total-surveillance security state, and it just might be. But it also likely represents an opportunity for the TSA to bypass its own awe-inspiring history of incompetence — or to, once again, screw something up.

What the TSA is looking for is described thusly in its RFI:

The TSA is interested in evaluating the current/near term state of commercial solutions to be designed, developed, and operated by entities that are established as TSA regulated entities or are providing demonstration support in conjunction with such an entity.  TSA is particularly interested in techniques that may be used to make members of the traveling public aware of the demonstration, to enroll them for this pre-screening, to use non-governmental data elements to generate an assessment of the risk to the aviation transportation system that may be posed by a specific individual, and to communicate the identity of persons who have successfully passed this risk based assessment to TSA's Secure Flight.

There's much talk in the overall document of giving responding companies acess to Social Security data and the like, but it's obviouc that the TSA wants private companies experienced in compiling and crunching commercial data to work their magic on frequent flyers.

The ACLU's Jay Stanley frets, understandably:

This would be a major step toward turning the agency's Pre-Check whitelist into the insidious kind of passenger profiling system that was proposed under the Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11, and a confirmation of our longstanding warnings that the logic of the risk-assessment approach to security will drive the government toward the use of more and more data on individuals.

That the TSA insists participation is voluntary doesn't satisfy the civil liberties group, since the TSA is openly eager to encourage as much participation as possible. "[U]ltimately," warns Stanley, "[W]e face the prospect of a two-class airline security system, or even a system in which simply everyone has a Pre-Check ID, and the hapless group who can't get one become a security underclass."

There is a risk that pre-screening — now drawing upon Safeway's knowledge of your (well … my) impressive wine habit and peculiar online purchases — will become de rigeur for any sort of easy travel, with refuseniks and those who can't qualify subject to ever-increasing barriers to travel by air (or even other methods, as the TSA's reach extends). That could, ultimately, be where this ends up.

My guess, though, is that, while security-state barriers to transportation may be the ultimate result, what we're actually seeing is a TSA effort to bridge its Grand Canyon-esque competency gap. I've written before that "the TSA is spectacularly inefficient and inept at everything it tries to do" and that the agency has been dinged repeatedly for purchasing equipment that then gathers dust in warehouses and for deploying procedures without first making the slightest effort to determine their effectiveness.

In 2010, seven years after the TSA initiated its behavioral Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, the GAO cautioned, "TSA deployed SPOT nationwide without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment." In the March 2012 report, the GAO pointed out that a flawed SPOT study performed since that time still "was not designed to fully validate whether behavior detection can be used to reliably identify individuals in an airport environment who pose a security risk."

The market research request for information may well be a step along the road to Panopticon. But it's likely being taken not with sinister intent, but by incompetent bureaucrats trying to offload some of their responsibilities to anybody who might actually be able to perform them.

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  1. Look, if you don’t want the TSA in your business, all you have to do is not fly anywhere. It’s not like the right to fly is in the Constitution or anything.

  2. I shoudn’t have bought that ammonium nitrate from Amazon.

  3. “[U]ltimately,” warns Stanley, “[W]e face the prospect of a two-class airline security system, or even a system in which simply everyone has a Pre-Check ID, and the hapless group who can’t get one become a security underclass.”

    Hello rank leftism. I guess we should ban credit scores and car insurance tiers, too, because it’s UNFAIR.

    I am shocked, shocked that the ACLU is cloaking its leftism in concern for civil liberites.

    1. Because we all know credit scores and car insurance tiers are government-mandated, of course. Oh wait….

  4. Maybe another redesign of the uniforms would help.

    1. I’m thinking little sailor suits with thigh-high shorts. Or full-body leech costumes.

  5. TSA is already experimenting with a system called Expedited Screening. People who have Nexus passes and/or Global Entry passes can put their registration number into their airline ticket profile and they can go through expedited screening (if their airport, and chosen airline is part of the system). You go through only a metal detector, and don’t have to remove shoes or take your laptop out.
    Since I already had Nexus (special lane through the border on the Ambassador and Blue Water bridges, which takes an hour off a trip to Toronto in the summer) I went ahead and got this too. Yes, I know, it’s a violation of some kind for a libertarian to agree to this much screening, but frequent visits to my dying father, then annoyance at taking my shoes and belt off and risking the grope or the radiation made me decide to go with this plan. As Bruce Schneier always argues, security is always a trade-off, and so is privacy. I don’t like it, but I do have to live my life.
    FWIW.

    1. it’s a violation of some kind for a libertarian to agree to this much screening

      No it’s not. You weren’t coerced.

      1. “No it’s not. You weren’t coerced.”

        Sarc. Must be sarc.

        1. Tulpabot isn’t programmed for sarc.

        2. No, it’s Tulpa. He’s trying to corner the market on stupid.

    2. A secret I discovered: You never actually have to take your shoes off. You can say, “I’m not going to take my shoes off”, and they’ll warn you that you’ll have to be screened more thoroughly, like that’s some kind of threat. So after you go through the x-ray, you get to sit there while a TSA agent kneels in front of you and swabs your shoes. Pointless, to be sure, but anything I can do to make a TSA goon’s day less pleasant is probably worth it.

      1. Nice to see that libertarianism still centers around making life difficult for people trying to do their jobs.

        But you won’t vote against the people who make them do it. No, that would be immoral.

        1. I had no idea that the TSA were conscripted into service. In fact, I’m sure they’re not.

          This apologia for fascism is pathetic.

        2. Fuck you Tulpa. Any asshole applying or doing that TSA job knew exactly what they were singing up for (here’s a hint it was the power over their fellow Americans).

          And oh by the way: THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY IS THE ONLY ONE AGAINST THE TSA and THE PATRIOT ACT.

          Fuck you can be a mendacious twat sometimes.

  6. “[U]ltimately,” warns Stanley, “[W]e face the prospect of a two-class airline security system, or even a system in which simply everyone has a Pre-Check ID, and the hapless group who can’t get one become a security underclass.”

    I loved walking past the hapless security underclass because I had a Global Entry sticker on my passport. If I can do the same thing to security lines with a better/expanded Pre-Check, that works for me. Hopefully, I can get this expatriation thing going and it will only be an issue every few years.

  7. “TSA deployed SPOT nationwide without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment.”

    So they watched the pilot episode of Lie to Me and said “let’s do it!”

    1. Doesn’t El Al do something like this, among other things?

      1. El Al probably hired actual body language experts, instead of sending out ITT Tech grads with Associates degrees in criminal justice to do the job.

        1. Ah, body language experts.

          Just slightly below psychics and water diviners on Popper’s scale.

          1. I’ve been trying to market myself as an expert in calypigology for years, with varying levels of success mostly dependent on blue laws.

  8. Flying won’t be safe until they see all our browser histories.

    butt-guzzling grannys
    Malayasian teen skullplosion
    Faces of Death 8 The Faces just get Deathier and More Face-y torrent
    Fingerbanggangbangfinger
    How to get Warty smell out of linen closet

    1. That’s all fine.

      reason.com/blog

      *DANIEL SUTHERLAND SCREAM*

  9. If anybody is interested, there is a very entertaining blog called Taking Sense Away written by a former TSA officer. It’s actually well written and pretty damn funny (the guy pretty much hates the TSA as much as I do). I’d also recommend Amy Alkon’s TSA News Blog.

    1. Thanks for this. Marked it and will be returning regularly. Guys got a great sense of humor.

  10. what we’re actually seeing is a TSA effort to bridge its Grand Canyon-esque competency gap.

    Well, bless your innocent and trusting little heart, J D.

  11. Ah, body language experts.

    Just slightly below psychics and water diviners on Popper’s scale.

    “This line, Sir.”

    “Why? What’s in this line?”

    “Don’t be concerned. The lady is just going to move her hands over your head for a moment.”

    “A PHRENOLOGIST? You’re using phrenologists to screen airplane passengers, now?”

    “Don’t make a scene, Sir. She’s Government Certified.”

    1. Just fucking great.A jobs program for neuroscience grads.

  12. This project is a cargo cult exercise. They are looking at fields where companies have been able to assemble large files of events with good or bad outcomes, along with independent variables for the same events, and used data mining to build models to predict the outcome. Targeted advertising, credit scoring, fraud control, and other fields use variants of this process.

    But there are no large files of terrorists and non-terrorists. You can buy the computers, rent conference rooms with big whiteboards, and even order bagels on Friday, but you aren’t going to do any data mining without known outcomes.

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