A problem with PreCheck at AUS

Larisa Manescu

On March 19, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport became the first airport in 2013 to adopt the Transportation Safety Administration’s PreCheck program, a pre-screening program that allows certain frequent fliers to be eligible for expedited screening. Austin-Bergstrom is the latest of 40 airports nationwide to institute the program.

Travelers get information embedded in the barcodes on their boarding passes, after which they are motioned to a specific lane where they undergo accelerated screening. Under the loosened regulations, these travelers are no longer required to remove their shoes, jackets, belts, liquids stored in their carry-on bags or laptops and tablets from their cases.

Those eligible for the accelerated screening program include U.S. citizens travelling domestically who are frequent fliers with participating airlines, as well as those who are members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS. In November 2012, Canadian citizens who are NEXUS members became eligible for the PreCheck program.

As a Canadian citizen who lacks NEXUS membership, I’m not an eligible participant, but it’s not because of bitterness that I question the program.

Creating an additional checkpoint for faster screening is a utilitarian solution of convenience that would allow all travelers to experience shorter lines and reduced waiting time. But this is a side effect of the program, not the underlying motivation behind it.

While this initiative appears progressive through its loosening of regulations for certain individuals, it represents another bureaucratic action taken by TSA that is publicized to appear as if the agency is actively making the country more secure.

According to TSA’s website, the intention behind PreCheck is “part of the agency’s larger effort to implement risk-based security concepts that enhance security by focusing efforts on travelers considered high-risk and about whom the agency knows less.”

Based on more than a decade of evidence, these “risk-based security concepts” have not been effective, instead resulting in unnecessary spending, complaints of civil rights violations and general inconvenience with no tangible gain.

In 2011, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the author of the legislation that initially established the TSA, called the entire operation a “fiasco.” Mica, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, stated in a 2011 interview with humanevents.com that TSA had become too bureaucratic and proposed that the agency, which employs more than 62,000 people, be dismantled and replaced with a privatized agency that would exceed no more than 5,000 employees.

Instead of taking preemptive measures, such as making passengers take off their shoes during the screening process after Richard Reid hid explosives in his shoes in December 2001, Mica outlined a better solution: The TSA would monitor specific terrorist threats and collect intelligence in order to be ahead of the danger rather than lagging behind it.

Mica’s voice is not alone. Michael Brenner, former lecturer of international relations and global studies at UT who specializes in American foreign policy and Middle East relations, said that the description of the entire TSA system as useless and unfounded is a well-circulated opinion within the professional realm.

“I know well a number of people in the intelligence and security field and all find the TSA system laughable,” Brenner said. “The changes over the past 12 years are not based on a serious risk calculation but on public relations considerations taken in a political context.”

The PreCheck program is promoted as serving a legitimate purpose: making the essential task of security more efficient by speeding up the process and not wasting time on trusted fliers. However, the program is also designated to accommodate and please the most preferred consumers — those who spend the most money on air travel.

The PreCheck program isn’t a bad idea because of monetary costs, as it is completely free and voluntary. However, I would like to see the TSA analyze and reconsider its general worth as an agency. Instead of trying to fix the broken pieces of an agency that has been labeled as failed by many, why not start from scratch?

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies sophomore from Ploiesti, Romania.