TSA’s improved Pre✓ lays bare serious TSA security flaws

by Ned Levi on February 3, 2014

TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/

Last week, I wrote about the improvements in TSA Pre✓ and how to become eligible to use the program. I explained that TSA (Transportation Security Administration) opened direct registration for Pre✓ for the first time.

TSA and its Pre✓ program are certainly not perfect, by any means, but TSA and Pre✓ are a fact of life which won’t change anytime soon. TSA security checkpoints, no matter how much any traveler dislikes them, are staying put for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, it makes sense for travelers to take advantage of programs like Pre✓ to make their travel easier, and perhaps safer, rather than endure the stress and pain of standard TSA security. I’ve been using Pre✓ for some time. It has certainly eased my way through airport security checkpoints and taken much of the stress and pain of air travel away.

Despite the Pre✓ improvements, the program has barely scratched the surface of essential Pre✓ improvement needs and, in part, lays bare some of the serious problems plaguing TSA.

Since the beginning of Pre✓, TSA has been clear that no eligible traveler would be guaranteed its use for any particular trek through TSA security. That randomness, we have been told by TSA, makes us safer. I have serious doubts that the randomness of the program’s usage improves its safety enough to justify it.

• An application to be a TSA Pre✓ member costs $85. The fee is justified, according to TSA, by the cost of the background checks, interviews, obtaining member finger prints and the various program databases and TSA electronic equipment used for Pre✓.

After paying for the membership, if approved, don’t TSA Pre✓ members have a right to expect to use their membership whenever using a participating airport and airline? I think so.

For each Pre✓ traveler, TSA has their extensive background check and fingerprints on file. If a traveler is safe enough to use Pre✓ today, aren’t they just as safe to use it tomorrow? If the background check is so faulty that TSA can’t be sure of Pre✓ members each time they travel, of what real value are the background checks and, therefore, isn’t TSA taking a serious security risk each time a traveler uses a Pre✓ line?

• TSA’s Ross Feinstein, speaking in October about the expansion of Pre✓ membership, talked about the extensive background checks enabling new Pre✓ members to whisk through airport security.

I’ve been in contact with many TSA Pre✓ members recently. One has been a member of Pre✓ since its inception, through United Airlines. He said he’s seen the value of Pre✓ “diluted” since TSA started randomly moving people into Pre✓ lines. I’ve seen the same thing in recent months — travelers using Pre✓ lines despite never having had an extensive background check by TSA or Homeland Security.

How can TSA justify requiring extensive background checks for some air travelers, for which they pay for the privilege to use Pre✓ security lines, while at the same time permitting essentially unknown air travelers, who’ve had no background checks of any kind, to also use the special “low” security Pre✓ lines?

• Another air traveler with whom I’ve had contact said she only recently obtained her Pre✓ membership. When flying through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, she was sorely disappointed to discover that TSA had closed all its Pre✓ lines at the airport. Even with her boarding pass approved for Pre✓ she had to remove clothing, pull her laptop and liquids baggie out of her carry-on luggage and endure a full body scan or an enhanced patdown.

How can TSA justify charging anyone for Pre✓ membership if they’re going to completely close Pre✓ access to all for extensive periods of time at airports participating in the Pre✓ program?

• As discussed, air travelers are paying fees to be members of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “trusted traveler” programs, enabling them to use Pre✓ lines, including the new Pre✓ Application Program. The key requirement of all these programs, according to TSA, is that each traveler submits to extensive background checks.

There are also air travelers who haven’t had any background checks, who’ve only submitted their correct name, address, and date of birth, to their airline when purchasing their tickets, of whom TSA knows essentially nothing, who are being allowed to use TSA Pre✓ security lines. These passengers go through substantially diminished security, compared to the regular lines which require you to remove shoes, belts and all outerwear, then submit to a full body scanner or an enhanced, intrusive patdown.

What does that say about what’s really happening at TSA airport security checkpoints?

To me, it’s a major statement that the intense, intrusive, regular security lines run by TSA at its airport checkpoints are nothing more than unnecessary security “theater” meant to assuage the American public’s fears about air travel-based terrorism. By letting just about anyone use their lower security Pre✓ lines, they’re clearly indicating their high security lines are totally unnecessary.

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