The screenings of tomorrow could be unlike anything you can imagine — fast, easy, and maybe even friendly. At least that’s the assessment of experts.
“Look for more automated screening lines at airports,” says Mark Dombroff, an aviation lawyer with the Alexandria, Va., office of LeClairRyan. “Look for new technology, which compiles more information faster and involves smaller machines.”
In the coming months, observers say, new biometric and other technology could fundamentally change the way the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) handles screenings. But privacy advocates say technology might create more problems than it solves.
Passengers, meanwhile, have their own ideas about how to fix the TSA — ideas that involve bringing common sense and politeness back to the screening process.
Even so, it’s difficult to write off the new technology and its promises. Late last year, for example, Delta Air Lines introduced its first “biometric” terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Technology developed with the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) scans passengers’ faces and verifies their identities. With the biometric ID system, as with TSA PreCheck, passengers don’t have to remove computers from their bags during screening.
In Los Angeles, the TSA and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began deploying advanced passenger-screening technology last year. The portable terahertz millimeter-wave screening devices can detect weapons and other security threats by identifying objects that block the heat that radiates from the body.
If these technologies catch on, it’s not difficult to imagine a near future without long security lines, invasive searches or full body scans. The new security checkpoint may not be a checkpoint at all but a secure area passengers walk through without breaking stride.
“With a facial-recognition system, there would be no need for a TSA agent to check your ID,” says Marios Savvides, director of the CyLab Biometrics Center at Carnegie Mellon University. “The system captures an individual’s iris and full face as they walk by.”
That’s an exciting future, and it could happen soon. Outside the United States, biometric technology is common. Andrew Coggins, a professor at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, just returned from China, and he reports widespread use of biometric technology there to track visitors.
“When I landed in Shanghai, I had to go to a kiosk where fingerprints of both hands, passport, and my photo were all collected,” Coggins says. “From there, I went to immigration control. When I got to my hotel, my picture was taken and matched to the data collected at the airport.”
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