Security Questions Raised by Rapid Growth of TSA PreCheck
By Amanda Vicinanzo
Senior Editor of Homeland Security Today
Special to In Homeland Security
The rapid expansion of expedited airport screening over the past year is raising questions over whether the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sufficiently tests these measures for security effectiveness, according to a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“This program, intended to make travel easier, could create unnecessary vulnerabilities and seems to cause confusion among travelers,” said House Committee on Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).
TSA created the PreCheck program in 2011 to allow expedited screening for selected passengers considered low risk. Passengers participating in the pilot program were not required to remove their shoes, jackets, or belts and could keep laptops, as well as liquids and gels, in their carry-on baggage.
In October 2013, expedited screening experienced an explosive growth of about 300 percent due to an increase in the overall number of passengers designated as eligible for expedited screening with TSA’s implementation of the TSA PreCheck Risk Assessments, expansion of the Managed Inclusion program and growth in the number of TSA PreCheck airports.
GAO reported that as of April 2014 there were about 5.6 million individuals who, through TSA PreCheck lists, were eligible for expedited screening. To apply, individuals must visit an enrollment center where they provide biographic information including name, date of birth and address, as well as documentation to prove identity and citizenship, and fingerprints to undergo a TSA Security Threat Assessment.
“The number of TSA PreCheck boarding passes issued each month grew slowly from October 2011, when TSA PreCheck was launched, through September 2013, increasing from about 673,000 to about 3 million. In October 2013, when TSA began the TSA PreCheck Risk Assessment process, TSA issued almost 9 million TSA PreCheck boarding passes,” GAO’s audit report states.
TSA collaborated with industry stakeholders in implementing TSA PreCheck lanes. According to GAO, eight of the 16 stakeholders indicate that TSA needs to improve its communication with passengers regarding how expedited screening works.
For example, at two of the six airports GAO visited, auditors observed customers in the PreCheck lanes taking off shoes and coats and removing liquids, gels, and laptops from their bags.
In response, GAO said, “TSA officials stated that it takes time to train passengers about the expedited screening process and that some confusion on the screening procedures is to be expected as passengers are retrained on this process after becoming accustomed to the security measures instituted since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
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