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Self-checkout, security style

Self-checkout, security style

I’m sure we’ve all done self-checkout at a grocery store to save time, rather than stand behind shoppers in line with literally a cartful of items. But how about self-checkout at an airport?

You’re probably saying, “What? How is that possible?” Well, folks, a new technology was recently unveiled at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas, featuring a screening system designed for travelers who do not want to wait on long lines at airport security checkpoints. And honestly, isn’t that all of us?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has joined forces with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) to unveil this self-service screening system (say that three times) at the main airport in Las Vegas.

TSA PreCheck passengers at TSA’s “Innovation Checkpoint” - essentially a site for testing and evaluation of emerging security technologies from vendors in a live checkpoint environment – are serving as guinea pigs for the testing of this new system, which was developed in a TSA lab in Arlington, Va.

The prototype has a video monitor that provides step-by-step instructions for passengers to complete screening at their own pace. Once passengers have completed the required screening process and are cleared for travel, automated exit doors open so travelers can gather their belongings and head to their flights.

TSA noted in announcing this new technology that while there is minimal assistance from Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), they will be available for assistance as needed and will work to ensure that passengers using the self-screening lane are following security protocols. 

According to TSA, “The aim is to provide a near self-sufficient passenger screening process while enabling passengers to directly receive on-person alarm information and allow for the passenger self-resolution of those alarms to reduce instances where a pat-down or secondary screening procedure would be necessary.”

As TSA Administrator David Pekoske stated, “We are constantly looking at innovative ways to enhance the passenger experience, while also improving security. This self-service prototype allows our trusted travelers to complete the screening process at their own pace.”

Sounds like a great idea, right? Sorry to be Debbie Downer here, Mr. Pekoske, but this new technology raises some very serious red flags. First, anything new for people to learn or try out for the first time, even with video step-by-step guidance, has the potential to cause delays, or in this case, back up lines that were originally intended to be shortened in the first place with this new system!

I could just picture a “snowbird” retired couple from New York trying to walk themselves through this process at either LaGuardia or JFK Airport and taking too long trying to figure out the screening process as anxious (and ultimately angry) travelers wait their turn in line.

Next thought – this idea of decreasing the number of TSOs at the security checkpoints with the adoption of self-service screening means less eyes detecting any suspicious activity, which is probably not a good thing. Security manpower should not be reduced with the introduction of this new technology; you just don’t know what could happen anywhere at any time in high-traffic areas, especially at airports.

While this new self-screening technology is just a prototype right now, TSA stated that future deployment at other checkpoint lanes at Harry Reid Airport or at other airports will be based on passenger assessments and data that the agency will collect at the Las Vegas airport, including the system’s performance, design, cybersecurity, human factors, and other variables.

DHS Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Dimitri Kusnezov noted the demand for this self-checkout system when he said, “The number of airline passengers continues to increase year-over-year, creating a need for innovative screening solutions that enhance transportation security and make traveling more efficient.”

I think for now, I’ll keep my self-checkouts limited to the grocery store.


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