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TSA ID check trials showing positive results, says Pistole

TSA's Pistole

TSA’s series of new identity verification programs under trial at airports across the country are yielding positive results and the agency is working to refine them, the agency’s leader told Congress.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Nov. 2, TSA Administrator John Pistole said the agency is looking to expand its voluntary passenger pre-screening program, Pre Check, beyond the four initial airports and airlines that host the program. Currently, frequent fliers on American Airlines and Delta Airlines flying out of Miami, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, and Atlanta international airports can volunteer to provide personal information before they board airplanes.  Fliers that participate in U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS who are U.S. citizens and are flying on participating airlines, can also use the system. “The data collected from these pilot sites will inform our plans to expand the program to include additional airlines as well as other airports that participate in CBP's Global Entry program, once they are operationally ready,” said Pistole.

He noted that Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) in the four pilot airports were getting “very positive feedback from TSA Pre Check travelers, while the two partner airlines have successfully demonstrated the technical capabilities required to participate in the program, thus paving the way for other airlines to follow.”  

The TSA’s Known Crewmember program, developed with the airline industry, was garnering similar positive feedback and had processed almost 60,000 uniformed pilots since it started, he said.

The Known Crewmember program is the result of a joint test between the airline industry (Air Transport Association) and pilots (International Airline Pilots Association), that allows uniformed pilots from 22 airlines to show two forms of identification that are checked against a database called the "Cockpit Access Security System" which confirms identity, said Pistole. “After more than two months into the pilot program, and with deployments nearly complete at the seven participating airports, over 59,000 uniformed pilots have been cleared through the process with an average of nearly 1,900 approvals per day,” he said.

Pistole was a little more cautious in describing the agency’s experience with its expanded Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) program, which was based on its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques or SPOT program, The SPOT program is currently in use at over 160 airports, according to Pistole. Although the preliminary analysis of the BDO pilot program at Boston’s Logan International Airport, showed an increase in the rate of detection of high-risk passengers, Pistole said additional data is required to understand if the trend seen in the Boston data is statistically significant and replicable at other airports. “TSA is currently conducting analyses with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate to estimate the number of cases required for validation,” he said. “In the meantime, we are expanding this pilot to Detroit in order to collect additional data on incorporating enhanced real-time risk assessments into our other layers of security,” he said.