Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 9, 2014

Will they eventually ask us to fly naked?

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

The TSA has issued new security rules:

Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States.

As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.

TSA will continue to adjust security measures to ensure that travelers are guaranteed the highest levels of aviation security conducted as conveniently as possible.

The optimist in me would like to believe that these new restrictions are due to intelligence indicating a real and imminent threat. The narrow scope (for now) of these new measures supports my optimistic side.

However, the pessimist in me is willing to consider concern about a couple of things.  The most obvious being that with the constant worry about threats to our aviation system since 9/11, a perverse “whack-a-mole” instinct has taken hold.  Almost thirteen years after 9/11, shouldn’t current technology be able to determine whether or not electronic devices are stuffed with explosives rather than circuit board? At every mention of every possible threat, are we to abandon yet even more freedoms and privacy?

And what about the possibility that these rules will make their way into our domestic aviation system? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones makes a related point:

Second: lots of us have had the experience of having to toss out a bottle of liquid or a pocket knife at a TSA checkpoint. But a cell phone? That’s a whole different animal. If TSA starts forcing people to toss their $500 smartphones into a bin, never to be seen again, there’s going to be some serious public outrage. Is that really going to start happening?

I’d vote that it will.  Until at least the first Congress person or staffer has their phone confiscated.  Then, not unlike sequestration, the rules are likely to change.

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3 Comments »

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July 28, 2014 @ 9:00 am

[...] Will they eventually ask us to fly naked? – Homeland Security Watch [...]

Comment by Possum

August 12, 2014 @ 8:14 am

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet, and TSA is still very reliant on the eyes, ears, and instincts of the officers and x-ray operators. Due to slow throughput and cost, TSA unfortunately abandoned the checkpoint EDS (explosives detetction system)project years ago, which used computed tomography to detect explosives, and held the most promise for automated detection at the checkpoint. TSA has a tough problem to balance security and passenger satisfaction, but I am also disappointed in the lack of reliable automated detection and/or international partnerships to develop or fund advanced technology…

Comment by John Wilson

September 12, 2014 @ 9:54 am

The idea of automated systems are always nice and would be far more efficient, though more expensive… to own, develop, implement etc. Unfortunately, the concept may be a little too far fetched. Officer discretion and ability with current intelligence on capabilities and tactics used by potential actors are key to the defining force of protection provided by the TSA. To use automated systems in excess could open up a larger vulnerability to the transportation systems of the US. The assumption is that there can always be a secondary search or at very least another pair of eyes or an expert to conduct the proper analysis of the potential threat. With automated systems in place, the technology becomes all of the above expertise, albeit the TSO on xray, the explosives tech, and the secondary search officer. The problem that arises is that it may be potentially easier to gain access to operating systems, standards, etc. to the technology once than it would be to gain access and defy 3 or more officers/experts.

As far as the cellular and electronic devices… TSA does not confiscate these electronics but rather that the electronics can be voluntarily abandoned if the passenger would like to fly. Also, if the device is able to be charged and turn on then the problem no longer exists. Yes, it seems that it would be easy to see 2 lbs of explosive in a computer without the circuit board, but what if they are using that large piece of metal to the advantage of the actor to conceal such a device? I agree that intelligence driven security does seem spastic, but when it comes down to it, the ‘one size fits all’ concept really does not compare to the targeted search capability of the intelligence driven aviation security.

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