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Cheers, caution surround expansion of TSA PreCheck

By McClatchy News Services


More than 25 million people have left their coats and shoes on their bodies, their laptops and 3-ounce liquids packed away and walked through a metal detector rather than a body scanner since the 2011 launch of the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program.

But being picked for expedited airport security has been something of a tough get: Passengers have been eligible only by invitation from an airline or through membership in existing programs such as Global Entry.

Around Thanksgiving, the TSA also began extending PreCheck to random travelers deemed safe by the agency.

The program, however, is about to become a full-on part of the travel landscape.

In December the TSA began offering travelers the opportunity to apply for PreCheck status, which requires a background check, a visit to an airport application site and $85 for a five-year membership. The TSA plans to open more than 300 application centers nationwide, which effectively will democratize the opportunity to apply for PreCheck membership.

PreCheck's growth is part of what TSA spokes­woman Ann Davis called the agency's commitment to moving away from a "one-size-fits-all approach to screening, based on the knowledge that most passengers are low risk."

"We're breaking the travel population into subgroups and deciding, based on risk, whether we can offer them an expedited screening experience," she said.

Such philosophy has dictated that travelers 12 and younger and 75 and older generally get modified screenings.

"Intelligence tells you children 12 and under and people older than 75 are generally a low risk," Davis said.

It's important to note that those in PreCheck won't get expedited screening every time they travel. "We infuse some element of unpredictability for security purposes," Davis said.

Such organizations as the Global Business Travel Association and conservative think tank Heritage Foundation have applauded the expansion of PreCheck.

But Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, sounded caution, saying that PreCheck's information-gathering techniques are murky and that the program creates "a flying underclass."

"This is what we warned about since the beginning (of PreCheck in 2011): a de facto standard where everyone has to go through a background check to have a normal flying experience," Stanley said.

"Never before has the government rated its own citizens according to how dangerous they supposedly are. We live in a democracy where all people are supposed to be treated equal."

He also cautioned against its effectiveness: "A decorated military veteran like Timothy McVeigh probably wouldn't have had a hard time getting into this program."

George Hobica, founder of the AirfareWatchdog website, said he supports the expansion because "it will make it less exclusive, which is good because the lines are faster. You really breeze through."

He agreed that PreCheck essentially amounts to profiling by the government, but he added that he has no objection.

"Is profiling a good thing?" he asked rhetorically. "The Israelis have done it for decades, and look at their record of air safety."


Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune

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Makiki_Al wrote:
Good to let the program be available to more, better if they would educate them to be prepared by not wearing things prone to set off the metal detector and already have their pockets empty. TSA PRE is a great system and can really be "drop and go" if you travel smart.
on January 5,2014 | 05:58AM
Mike174 wrote:
Moving closer to a police state.
on January 5,2014 | 06:57AM
Anonymous wrote:
Got randomly chosen and cruised through the process. Love it.
on January 6,2014 | 09:47AM
alohacharlie wrote:
Got randomly chosen and breezed right thru. Liked it so much that I will check into paying the $85 for 5 years to get pre-approved for the program.
on January 6,2014 | 12:32PM
kennie1933 wrote:
I've always said that the SAFEST time to fly is the time immediately following some sort of attack and security is beefed up. It's when nothing happens for a long time and we relax standards that something happens. Terrorists are a patient group. They are simply waiting for an "opening." I'm for relaxing some of the stringent policies, but we have to remember that it's in the name of safety.
on January 7,2014 | 09:40AM
PoiDoggy wrote:
"It's important to note that those in PreCheck won't get expedited screening every time they travel." So, you pay $85 and you still won't necessarily get the expedited screening? Doesn't sound like a bargain to me.
on January 8,2014 | 08:50AM
fstop wrote:
"Never before has the government rated its own citizens according to how dangerous they supposedly are. We live in a democracy where all people are supposed to be treated equal."

Nonsense. How do you explain those who are on the sex registry list, for example? Parolees, convicted drunk drivers ...

on January 9,2014 | 01:41AM
cojef wrote:
Yea, sex offenders especially have to check-in every time they move. But this is to protect the community. Freedom has it's limitations when public safety is involved. Rather be safe than sorry. Do I like it, no.
on January 10,2014 | 08:21AM
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