As an aviation management major airport security is a concern that I have taken a huge interest in. Making travel safer to air travelers is one of the biggest tasks that will never end as long as there is a plane in the sky. However, there are many problems that come about when traveling because passengers feel as if they are being harassed, which doesn’t set a good look for the Transportation Security Administration.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) consist of 50,000 security officers, inspectors, directors, air marshals and managers who protect the nation’s transportation systems so you and your family can travel safely. They look for bombs at checkpoints in airports, they inspect rail cars, they patrol subways with our law enforcement partners, and they work to make all modes of transportation safe.
Criminals and terrorists have been known to conceal items in private areas of the body, especially in the small of the back above the buttocks and high on the thigh. Screeners are to carefully inspect these areas during pat downs to adequately check for dangerous items. Also, underwire bras can set off magnetometers, and bras have been used to conceal dangerous items. One of the most intrusive and most controversial aspects of secondary screening is the use of pat-down inspections to check selected passengers or to resolve magnetometer alarms.
Specific complaints over pat-down techniques have centered on allegations of inappropriate touching and unprofessional or rude conduct by screeners. More general complaints have focused on privacy concerns and perceptions that the pat-down procedures were intrusive and humiliating. A 2005, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) investigation and audit of pat-down screening procedures found that the TSA adequately advised passengers of their rights under the pat-down procedures, and appropriately accommodated those rights.
The DHS also found that TSA screeners were adequately trained in pat down inspection procedures and, based on TSA records, additional screening procedures were performed on proportionate numbers of male and female passengers. Finally, the DHS found that the TSA had implemented procedures to investigate and resolve passenger complaints regarding the screening process. The TSA maintains a screening Performance Management Information System (PMIS) where recorded complaints are logged.
Operations research analysis teams and federal security directors review complaints logged in the database to track trends and identify areas of concern and take appropriate actions, including possible disciplinary actions, to resolve specific issues. Complaints involving allegations of discrimination based on color, race, gender, religion, or national or ethnic origin are forwarded to the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights for further investigation. Despite considerable concern raised by some regarding inappropriate behavior during pat-down screening procedures, the DHS found no problems with the technique.
Nonetheless, privacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU), continue to express concern over potential intrusion on individual rights and alleged cases of sexual harassment and abuse of passengers, particularly female passengers, by TSA screeners. These concerns, however, raise a significant challenge for the TSA: to maintain high levels of security, which require resolving all alarms and screening in detail those passengers ascertained to pose an elevated security risk, while maintaining the privacy rights and dignity of passengers identified for these secondary screening measures.
While these technologies offer a potential alternative to pat-down screening techniques, they too, raise privacy concerns because the images generated by these systems can reveal private areas, physical characteristics that individuals may wish to keep private, as well as prosthetics and other assistive medical devices.
In the fast-paced environment of the passenger checkpoint, pat-down searches may be rushed and certain areas may be overlooked. The difficulty in detecting threat items on passengers is compounded by the requirements to respect the privacy of individuals discussed above, as well as social and cultural norms and individual differences regarding interpersonal contact and expectations of privacy and modesty.
Some have also noted cultural sensitivities toward handicapped and disabled individuals and point out that screeners are sometimes hesitant to perform intrusive searches, particularly on individuals wearing various prosthetics. Terrorists and criminals can and have exploited these aspects of individual privacy by concealing prohibited items in body cavities and near private areas of their bodies, and could also exploit a screener’s reluctance to perform thorough searches of prosthetic devices.
Covert testers also use these methods to conceal simulated threat items in an effort to test screeners’ abilities to detect items under real-world conditio ns and identify vulnerabilities in checkpoint screening that can potentially be reduced through procedural modifications and/or changes to screener training. These covert tests have revealed weaknesses in screener performance to detect weapons, simulated explosives, and components of explosive devices.