The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Administrator John Pistole has recently announced plans to create and oversee a ‘Trusted Traveler‘ program. Under the TSA’s proposed ‘Trusted Traveler’ program airline passengers would be able to avoid Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, leave their shoes on and leave their laptops in their bags.
The TSA’s proposed ‘Trusted Traveler’ program is expected to launch the coming summer, being tested on uniformed and badged airline pilots and flight attendants. Should the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program testing be successful with airline flight crews, the TSA expects to implement the program for frequent flyers.
Under the TSA’s current proposal for selecting ‘Trusted Travelers’ the agency will identify candidates through examining data from U.S. airline frequent flyer programs. Once selected for the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program passengers would be identified by a barcode printed on their boarding pass, the barcode would be scanned by a TSA Travel Document Checker (TDC) and be sent to an expedited security lane.
Under the current plan for the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program passengers who frequent airlines with no “elite levels” could end up bypassed for participating in the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program, as could passengers who are frequent flyers in the United States but who choose to belong to a foreign frequent flyer program (disclosure, my current frequent flyer elite status is entirely with two different British airlines, although I primarily fly domestically in the United States). An additional problem with offering the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program to U.S. frequent flyers is the potential for airlines to balk at turning over frequent flyer program specifics to the TSA. While the TSA knows when passengers fly from the required passenger information for flying, other proprietary information may be intertwined and be problematic for airlines to separate before allowing the TSA to comb through their frequent flyer data.
Of course, nothing is as straightforward as it seems with the TSA. Admin. Pistole has stated that along with “keep[ing] some randomness and unpredictability in there so terrorists can’t game the system,” the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program would not be available for passengers on all flights. The TSA presently intends to only implement the ‘Trusted Traveler’ program on pre-determined low risk routes, flights likely to have a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) on board and to not be offered on flights that may also have a passenger on board who is on the “watch list.”
Along with some of the obvious flaws in the TSA’s ‘Trusted Traveler’ program, a TSA threat assessment analyst has offered up their opinion on the program from their unique vantage point:
“Based upon the information we have been provided for establishing the Trusted Traveler program it is entirely possible for a long term sleeper cell to have completely clean members become frequent flyers for the sole purpose of bypassing security scrutiny at a later date. With no explosive detection in place and the ability to easily conceal explosives from all forms of current airport security, the TSA’s Traveler Plan gives a potential long term terrorist one more option to game the system. For Trusted Traveler to work the TSA needs to perform real background checks not cursory background checks in conjunction with frequent flyer information.”
The TSA has the opportunity to make travel for frequent flyers easier again … but can they do it effectively?