Future of Airport Security: Pat-downs vs. New Privacy Issues

Airport Security of the Future

Do you yearn for a return to yesteryear when “airport security” was nothing more than a stroll through a metal detector? Sorry, those days are gone.

However, there are plans to make security somewhat easier and possibly much quicker. But as with every improvement, it comes with a price tag. Let’s examine these changes, but first, some quick background.

Current U.S. Airport Security

By now, every traveler should know at least some Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations especially what items travelers cannot carry through security. Other rules also currently in force include the following:

  • You must remove your shoes
  • You cannot carry more than 3.4 ounces of liquid
  • You must go through a body detection procedure

This procedure can be a walk through a metal detector or a ten second wait in the body scan imaging machine. You have the right to refuse the body scan, but if you do, you must endure an “enhanced patdown” as I did in the video below:

Pat-downs or Gropings?

Few like the pat-downs (I know I didn’t), and some have equated them with “groping”. Even the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently noted today’s airline passenger distaste for security, saying travelers should be able to fly “with dignity, without stopping, without stripping and certainly without groping.” Agreed. And we are now told, changes are coming.

U.S. Security Changes in the Future

By the end of the year, the TSA’s John Pistole says his agency expects to begin testing a system utilizing express lanes that may eliminate the need for some of the more oppressive security measures. In exchange, however, passengers who qualify for this speedier service may be required to reveal the following (and perhaps more):

  • Personal information via interview
  • Details of past travels
  • Details and records on upcoming travels

Is this a fair exchange? I’d love to hear what you have to say about this on Facebook.

International Security Changes

Earlier this month, the IATA unveiled its own plans for the future of airport security, and it looks impressively futuristic, almost sci-fi, but these changes are years away. According to news reports, it may include an iris-recognition system linked to a government databases, with known or “safe” travelers then heading through a tunnel that includes an x-ray check, metal detector and a liquid-detection system.

We are also told it might not require shoe removal.

The Passport Problem

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Interpol has said there is something in the neighborhood of 28 million stolen passports and other travel documents floating around out there, and very few of the thieves ever get caught. It’s not clear if an iris-recognition program would help solve this problem, but it sounds as if creating new, counterfeit-proof passports is a good place to start.

In any event, don’t expect stringent security measures to disappear altogether; not in our lifetimes, anyway.

More from Rick Seaney:

Airport Security: Hand on Intimate Parts or Nose in Intimate Info?

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Published: June 8, 2011