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BUILDING TRUST IN AIRPORT SECURITY



Published: Tue, April 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Just about everyone who has flown on a commercial jet in the months since September has a story to tell: Frustrating waits in long security lines, the extra-thorough pat-down for the grandmother, the 11-year-old asked to remove his sneakers so they can be checked for explosives.

Random treatment at the airport checkpoints may make some people feel more secure. But it's window dressing. The United States hasn't developed a system to make the airports secure.

The Transportation Security Administration is hiring thousands of additional security screeners and the cost of aviation security is mushrooming. But does this mean the skies truly are safer?

Infrequent fliers

Travelers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the delays and the absurdity of treating each passenger equally as a potential threat. Frequent-flying business travelers, the bread-and-butter for the airline industry, are deserting by the thousands. They're staying home, exploring teleconferencing or driving instead.

What's the point of randomly determining who gets plucked out for extra scrutiny? That's a political solution, not a security solution. The nation needs to be smarter about this.

That means recognizing that not everyone is a potential danger. There is no excuse for the profiling of young men based solely on ethnicity. But assessing risk potential based on a number of behavioral factors, such as past travel patterns, is essential.

That's not profiling. It's getting smart.

It's time to create a voluntary identification program that would give people the opportunity to gain expedited treatment at airports, as long as they are willing to submit certain personal information for a background check.

Civil libertarians worry about the implications of surrendering all that personal information to the government. But no one would be compelled to do so. Put the emphasis on voluntary. People would have the option to gain such "trusted traveler" status.

The Transportation Security Administration is planning to conduct background checks and issue tamper-proof ID cards to pilots, maintenance workers and others whose business takes them to secure areas of airports. That kind of pre-screening should be extended to passengers. Tom Ridge, the president's director of homeland security, supports such a program. It would go a long way toward improving security and reducing the absurdities of today's mess.




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