TSA’s Trusted Traveler program deserves encouragement

In my commentaries, I’ve not always been a fan of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), especially when it comes to its privacy-invasive techniques and technologies. In fairness to the agency, however, the new, still-being-implemented Trusted Traveler program is focused, reasonable and — thus far — well-managed. The program allows pre-approved travelers to bypass some of the TSA’s more onerous screening procedures. It represents, better than any other program undertaken by the TSA in its decade-long existence, how passenger air travel security ought to be administered.

In order to qualify for the program, passengers wishing to enroll must provide some in-depth personal information to the TSA — basically, their work history and documentation to establish they are citizens or legal residents of the United States. A photograph and fingerprints are required as well, but not invasive biometric data such as retinal scans.

Once approved for the program, participants planning to enter the concourse at a participating airport (thus far, only Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit and Miami, and only for passengers flying on Delta or American Airlines) are directed to a special security line — one that does not incorporate the nude body scanners. At that special security line, the passengers do not have to take off their shoes or jackets, nor do they have to remove their laptop computers or toiletries from their carry-on bags and place them in separate bins. The passengers then are directed to pass through one of the normal security scanning devices.

The Trusted Traveler program is part of the overall effort by TSA — announced earlier this year by Administrator John Pistole — to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach it has employed for years (and which in essence treats every passenger as if he is a suspected terrorist), and toward one that focuses on “higher-risk and unknown passengers.”

If TSA truly is serious about this new strategy — especially if it includes no longer subjecting every toddler and wheelchair-bound octogenarian to invasive and unnecessary pat-downs or nude body scanners — Congress should take steps to encourage the agency to expand it quickly. The Trusted Traveler program will not fix all of the problems TSA faces — many of which are the result of the arrogant and rigid bureaucratic thinking that have become the agency’s hallmark — but it definitely is a step in the right direction.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.