Towards a tiered risk system at airports?

The NY Times reports that the several industry organizations are working on proposals to overhaul security checkpoints to provide more or less scrutiny based on the risk profile of each traveler. While the proposals are in the early stages, they represent a growing consensus around a concept that has the support of John S. Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration: divide travelers into three groups — trusted, regular or risky — and apply different screening techniques based on what is known about the passengers.

A crucial part of the group’s “checkpoint of the future” proposal, and similar plans under discussion by other industry organizations, is creating a trusted traveler program that would allow passengers to undergo a background check to gain access to an expedited security lane at the airport. These trusted travelers would probably pay a fee for the vetting, much like the $100 application fee for the Global Entry program operated by United States Customs and Border Protection. After submitting to an interview, a background check and a fingerprint scan to join Global Entry, members can clear customs using a kiosk instead of waiting to speak with an agent.

The association, a trade group, plans to release its own proposal for ways to improve security checkpoints next month, but many of its core concepts overlap with ideas presented by the International Air Transport Association at an industry conference last year.

Both groups envision three screening lanes with different security procedures based on varying levels of risk. Trusted travelers would undergo lighter screening, perhaps passing through a metal detector with their shoes on and laptops in their bags, whereas anyone flagged as potentially risky would receive more intensive scrutiny, using technology like the body scanners and interviews with officers trained in behavioral analysis.

Although many of the procedural details are still just proposals, the idea is to determine who may present a risk based on better use of government intelligence and watch lists as well as suspicious behaviors like checking in for a one-way international flight with no luggage.

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