Airport Security Update: TSA Takes Over Watch Lists and More Body Scan Controversy

The next phase of the United States Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program has begun for all tickets purchased after September 15, 2010 and for all flights departing after November 1, 2010 for domestic US flights or flights to/from the US.  Along with the usual information required by airlines, passengers are now required to provide their birth dates and genders when making flight reservations.

Meanwhile, the controversy over full body scanners his been re-ignited by pilots’ unions, a lawsuit and a YouTube video.

TSA Takes over Watch Lists 

Passengers flying within the US are now required to provide their full names as they appear on government IDs, their dates of birth, their genders and redress numbers (if applicable – a redress number is a number issued to a passenger whose name has erroneously appeared on the watch list) when making a flight reservation.

Prior to the implementation of Secure Flight, airlines were responsible for matching passenger names with watch lists provided by the TSA. The TSA will now be assuming the duties for matching passenger names with the watch lists. According to the TSA (see link), the added information of gender and date of birth will reduce the number of individuals who are erroneously identified as being on the watch list.

The changes that passengers see will likely not be significant as most of this information has been requested by airlines in the recent past; however, behind the scenes, the method that is used to screen this information will change.

Body Scanner Controversy

In a previous post, we discussed the implementation of full body scanners in Canada and resulting privacy and religious concerns.  In the past few weeks, the debate over full body scanners appears to have started again.

First, a California man recorded a video with his cell phone of his refusal to submit to a full body scan, which resulted in a full body pat-down that was to include a “groin check”.  The California man refused to submit to the groin check, saying that it would constitute a sexual assault.  Click here for a link to the video.

Second, airline pilots have begun to refuse to submit to full body scanning.  CNN reported that pilots’ unions for US Airways and American Airlines are urging their members to avoid full body scanning at airports, because of health risks, concerns about intrusiveness and security officer behaviour.  In addition, two commercial pilots (one with ExpressJet and one with Continental) have filed suit against the U.S. government claiming that the screening violates Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

On Tuesday, November 16, 2010, the head of the TSA defended his agency’s pat down procedure during testimony in front of a Senate committee, saying that people’s sensitivity about privacy must be balanced with the concern for secure flights.