Yesterday, Secretary Napolitano testified before Congress for the first time since her confirmation. One issue that spurred interest was the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Whole Body Imaging (WBI) program which screens passengers for explosives at the checkpoint by imaging bodies and looking for anomalies (in place of a metal detection wand inspection and physical pat-down). Almost since the agency’s creation in 2001, agency officials and critics alike have commented that TSA’s capability to find explosives on passengers needs dramatic improvement.
For most of the intervening years TSA struggled with piloting and deployment of WBI technology due to political considerations around privacy and the use of low dose x-ray. This has meant long delays in improving explosive detection at passenger checkpoints.
At the same time, TSA has been struggling with how to be more user friendly for the flying public. Different passengers have different concerns. For some the priority is speed, for others privacy and for occasional flyers it’s simplicity in what can be viewed as an intimidating process.
During the discussion of the WBI program yesterday, Congressman Dan Lungren (R-CA) suggested a very simple idea: Why not let the flying public choose the screening they want? For instance, if your priority is speed instead of privacy and you are willing to be screened by WBI technologies, then choose that line which should move faster because the TSA staff can make threat assessments faster.
If privacy is your priority, then choose a screening lane that uses more traditional screening methods but may take the TSA staff longer to make their threat assessments.
TSA has experimented with choice in recent times with its black, blue and green diamond lanes for different types of travelers. The next logical step is to let the public choose the screening technology most suitable for their own priorities.