TSA Granting Expedited Security Checks To Entire Lines Of Travelers Undercuts Everything About Its Security Theater
from the the-TSA-wants-YOU-to-not-think-too-hard-about-this dept
The TSA finally appears to be doing something to trim down the runtime of security theater performances. The PreCheck program, which sold travelers' rights back to them for a smallish fee is now being applied randomly to people waiting in line. And not just certain somebodies as the TSA did randomly over the holiday season in an effort to appear slightly less annoying. A whole lot of somebodies, according to this report from The Consumerist.
[A]s I approached the checkpoint to have my ID checked and my boarding pass scanned, a man who appeared to be a TSA supervisor stood and declared that my line and the one next to it are now PreCheck lanes.While the TSA would probably prefer this random largesse to be greeted with relief and gratitude, its normal day-to-day enforcement of petty, illogical policies ensures that this sort of thing is only greeted with suspicion.
The initial reaction from those around me was confusion — mutterings of “Why did they put me in the wrong line? What is PreCheck? Do I have to get in another line?” — but then the supervisor just continued telling us that we didn’t need to take off our shoes, remove laptops from their bags, and the other perks of being a PreCheck traveler.
Chris Morran was naturally perplexed by the TSA's implicit admission that its security theater was, in fact, security theater. After all, if whole lines can be declared "not terrorists," then why all the shoeless jumping through hoops the other 99.99% of the time? He reached out to the TSA, which responded with this:
“TSA also utilizes these lanes during certain times for other low-risk passengers who are identified through a real-time threat assessment process,” explained a TSA rep who then directed me to this TSA.gov page on what the agency calls “Managed Inclusion.”The infamous "threat assessment program" (as performed by barely-trained "Behavioral Detection Officers" [BDOs] and overseen by Passenger Screening Canines), which the GAO referred to as little better than a "coin flip" at detecting terrorists is now being used as the justification for granting dozens of fliers instant PreCheck approval.
Morran has a good reason to be suspicious of this move. Not only does it undercut the TSA's arguments for pretty much everything else that it does, it also contorts itself to give itself a pat on the back for being so damn good at detecting terrorists. This allows the TSA to give its Threat Assessment Program a veneer of legitimacy it hasn't earned. Morran points out that he didn't see a single "screening dog" anywhere and nothing indicating the decision was being made with any sort of "assessment" being involved. It was just business as usual and then, suddenly, everyone swept through the security process with shoes and laptops intact.
While I'm sure the travelers appreciated the expedited process, the real danger here is that the TSA -- which is supposed to be ensuring our airplanes are terrorist-free -- is now arbitrarily deciding to drop 90% of the process on a whim. Even if the infamous BDOs (and their pet friends) are performing some sort of en masse "assessment," that process has been deemed no more likely to net a terrorist than the randomly dragging every other person off for extra screening. Either the TSA needs to drop the many pretenses that "support" its procedures or it needs to stand by the very things it has claimed for years are essential to preventing terrorist activity. What if this had nothing to do with assessment and had everything to do with agents feeling less than motivated? It would look exactly the same and would have the same amount of "threat detection" behind it.
I would like to see the TSA drop the "theater" part and return to actual security, but trying to half-ass it with crowd-pleasing "everyone is pre-approved!" tactics like this is the agency trying to have it both ways -- and it's hugely disingenuous.