TSA’s improved Pre✓ lays bare serious TSA security flaws

TSA in action. Photo by Dan Paluska http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixmilliondollardan/

Last week, I wrote about the improvements in TSA Pre✓ and how to become eligible to use the program. I explained that TSA (Transportation Security Administration) opened direct registration for Pre✓ for the first time.

TSA and its Pre✓ program are certainly not perfect, by any means, but TSA and Pre✓ are a fact of life which won’t change anytime soon. TSA security checkpoints, no matter how much any traveler dislikes them, are staying put for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, it makes sense for travelers to take advantage of programs like Pre✓ to make their travel easier, and perhaps safer, rather than endure the stress and pain of standard TSA security. I’ve been using Pre✓ for some time. It has certainly eased my way through airport security checkpoints and taken much of the stress and pain of air travel away.

Despite the Pre✓ improvements, the program has barely scratched the surface of essential Pre✓ improvement needs and, in part, lays bare some of the serious problems plaguing TSA.

Since the beginning of Pre✓, TSA has been clear that no eligible traveler would be guaranteed its use for any particular trek through TSA security. That randomness, we have been told by TSA, makes us safer. I have serious doubts that the randomness of the program’s usage improves its safety enough to justify it.

• An application to be a TSA Pre✓ member costs $85. The fee is justified, according to TSA, by the cost of the background checks, interviews, obtaining member finger prints and the various program databases and TSA electronic equipment used for Pre✓.

After paying for the membership, if approved, don’t TSA Pre✓ members have a right to expect to use their membership whenever using a participating airport and airline? I think so.

For each Pre✓ traveler, TSA has their extensive background check and fingerprints on file. If a traveler is safe enough to use Pre✓ today, aren’t they just as safe to use it tomorrow? If the background check is so faulty that TSA can’t be sure of Pre✓ members each time they travel, of what real value are the background checks and, therefore, isn’t TSA taking a serious security risk each time a traveler uses a Pre✓ line?

• TSA’s Ross Feinstein, speaking in October about the expansion of Pre✓ membership, talked about the extensive background checks enabling new Pre✓ members to whisk through airport security.

I’ve been in contact with many TSA Pre✓ members recently. One has been a member of Pre✓ since its inception, through United Airlines. He said he’s seen the value of Pre✓ “diluted” since TSA started randomly moving people into Pre✓ lines. I’ve seen the same thing in recent months — travelers using Pre✓ lines despite never having had an extensive background check by TSA or Homeland Security.

How can TSA justify requiring extensive background checks for some air travelers, for which they pay for the privilege to use Pre✓ security lines, while at the same time permitting essentially unknown air travelers, who’ve had no background checks of any kind, to also use the special “low” security Pre✓ lines?

• Another air traveler with whom I’ve had contact said she only recently obtained her Pre✓ membership. When flying through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, she was sorely disappointed to discover that TSA had closed all its Pre✓ lines at the airport. Even with her boarding pass approved for Pre✓ she had to remove clothing, pull her laptop and liquids baggie out of her carry-on luggage and endure a full body scan or an enhanced patdown.

How can TSA justify charging anyone for Pre✓ membership if they’re going to completely close Pre✓ access to all for extensive periods of time at airports participating in the Pre✓ program?

• As discussed, air travelers are paying fees to be members of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “trusted traveler” programs, enabling them to use Pre✓ lines, including the new Pre✓ Application Program. The key requirement of all these programs, according to TSA, is that each traveler submits to extensive background checks.

There are also air travelers who haven’t had any background checks, who’ve only submitted their correct name, address, and date of birth, to their airline when purchasing their tickets, of whom TSA knows essentially nothing, who are being allowed to use TSA Pre✓ security lines. These passengers go through substantially diminished security, compared to the regular lines which require you to remove shoes, belts and all outerwear, then submit to a full body scanner or an enhanced, intrusive patdown.

What does that say about what’s really happening at TSA airport security checkpoints?

To me, it’s a major statement that the intense, intrusive, regular security lines run by TSA at its airport checkpoints are nothing more than unnecessary security “theater” meant to assuage the American public’s fears about air travel-based terrorism. By letting just about anyone use their lower security Pre✓ lines, they’re clearly indicating their high security lines are totally unnecessary.

  • jb

    Does TSA translate to “The Stupid Administration”? More proof that common sense in America is on life support (if not already dead).

  • mtp

    Ned. Once again, you are beating a dead horse. Ugh.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    Hmmm. Some of us brought up all these points when you wrote about Pre-Check last week, yet they didn’t seem to go over well . . . .

  • VELS14

    I guess you’re damned if you do and if you don’t Ned.

  • Susan Richart

    Last week you were singing the praises of PreCheck and now you’re dissing it. What gives? Did your readers finally make you see the light? Everyone know that PreCheck is a boondoggle that certainly doesn’t increase security of air travel.

    As a matter of fact, John Pistole claimed a short while ago that the TSA’s high vaunted Behavior Detection “Officers” allowed over 200,000 passengers into PreCheck lines on one day alone in December 2013. Of course, I don’t believe that claim either, but Pistole will say anything to make himself and his wicked agency look good.

  • Amy Alkon

    Paying to not have your body and rights quite as violated is an awful scam and a result of all those people who have gone through the TSA lines like blinking sheep, making no complaint or protest. I am not one of them — and I am lucky First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza took my case (a TSA worker suing me for $500,000) and made it go away. Yes, there are costs for standing up for our civil liberties. Jonathan Corbett filed (and funded) a court case against the TSA at great financial and personal cost. He’s a hero for doing that. Here’s the deal: If you benefit from our Constitution — as every citizen and visitor to this country does — it is your responsibility to defend it. (I don’t expect that of visitors — just citizens.)

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    No. We’re just wondering what’s going on.

  • standbytraveler

    Amy, you are absolutely right. But allow us, please, what caused the filing of a lawsuit by a TSA agent against you ??

  • Susan Richart
  • Johnp

    Thank you Susan for the link.

  • BobChi

    Your conclusion would appear to me to be absolutely correct. And the fact is that when I travel overseas the norm when it doesn’t involve any connection to the U.S. is procedures similar to what Precheck offers. It’s only when one flies back home that several extra degrees of security come into play. It’s security theater, and it’s time the Congress realized the emperor has no clothes. Unforunately the Congress is afraid to act.

  • Amy Alkon

    Thanks – I see Susan linked below. More from my blog:


    Scroll down for the post that led to the TSA worker and her lawyer trying to squeeze me for $500,000.

    By the way, anyone taking money for violating Americans’ bodies and rights sans probable cause (even if the government has set this up) is a horrible person and deserves our vocal contempt.

    And I say this as somebody who walks around all Miss Cheerypants saying hello to strangers and trying to help people. Generally speaking.

  • Amy Alkon

    Here also is an op-ed I wrote about this, published in the OC Register and other papers:


  • MBW473

    I appreciated his piece last week. I’m far more interested in getting through TSA easily every week at this point, than wasting lots of time and having to go through those scanners when I fly. Pre can help everyone do that. I appreciate this week’s article which indicts TSA. Like Ned said, TSA isn’t going to change anytime soon. It makes sense to make my personal travel easier any way I can while writing letters to my Congressman and Senators to push to change the law and TSA. I’ve been reading Ned’s articles for years now and he’s been very negative about TSA most of the time. He’s called for sweeping changes in them. He’s been very negative about CBP too, yet wisely suggested people get Global Entry. GE sure helps me coming home each month from my business trips from Europe. Their inspection program of laptops and phones is outrageous, but I’d be a fool to not have GE.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    No, it won’t change as long as people keep supporting it and defending it. It won’t change as long as people keep acquiescing.

    By now there have been abundant reports about the many people in Pre-Check who still don’t get its (Orwellian) benefits. If people want to pay to buy their rights back — which payment as evidenced by these reports doesn’t even guarantee them those rights anyway — there’s nothing I can do about it.

    I won’t stop pointing out, as I have been for two years, that it’s an abusive program designed by an abusive system that serves only to divide and conquer. And I won’t stop saying that it’s ethically indefensible because it’s the embodiment of “All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.”

  • Daisiemae

    Congress doesn’t want to act because they and/or their connected buddies are making too much money out of it. They don’t want to kill their cash cow.

  • MBW473

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but I rather work from inside and get through security at the airport with little fuss and bother. The government had all the information about me they looked at in the background check, long before I was able to use GE and Pre. I’m talking to my representatives in Washington who can make a difference about all this, if they want to do so. If they want my campaign contribution, this is an issue they have to make their own. We can moan and groan all we want on Internet forums and it’s not going to do much good. Columnists and bloggers can scream their heads off, and court suits can be brought, but when it comes to national security the government has an ace in the hole. If we want change, we have to get the law makers to change. We can do that because law makers want to be reelected. They pay attention to votes and cash and will do almost anything to amass both.

  • http://tsanewsblog.com/214/news/history-repeats-itself-with-tsas-strip-search-tactics/ Lisa Simeone

    I have been politically active all my life. I engage in civil disobedience. I research and write about these issues as much as possible. And I continue to press my reps in Congress, worthless wankers though they are. In short, I do a lot more than “moan and groan on the internet.”

  • MBW473

    Well good for you. I’ll work more quietly and wave to you from the Pre line.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    FREEDOM TO TRAVEL USA (http://ftusa.org) agrees completely. We want reasonable airport security. PreCheck is another name for the security of 2002 which NO ONE COMPLAINED about and which was PERFECTLY REASONABLY SAFE in 2002.

    – Metal detectors for primary screening
    – No assaulting genitals, breasts, and buttocks (either through criminal touching pat downs or the 100% false alarms of scanners)
    – Shoes on
    – Reasonable liquids allowed
    – No plastic baggies with toiletry items

  • TestJeff Pierce

    Part of the complaint in this article is that people who were “snookered” into paying for PreCheck are realizing that the TSA is allowing anyone in – theoretically with no new information looked up (I believe the TSA violates privacy and is now doing credit checks and warrant records look up on EVERY PASSENGER without PreCheck and using this illegal, passenger unapproved process to do the random PreCheck printouts on boarding passes).

    Furthermore, by allowing up to 25% of all passengers to take PreCheck lines, it increases the times for those who previously paid for random restoration of their constitutional rights.