Biz travel experts: US Trusted Traveller programme "doomed to failure"

By John Walton, January 11 2011
Biz travel experts: US Trusted Traveller programme

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, believes that the US government's current Trusted Traveller security pre-screening system is "doomed to failure".

Mitchell has cited background checking, technology ownership and member enrollment as key flaws in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program.

"More robust criminal history background checks need to be conducted on members, and recertified at regular intervals," Mitchell continues, writing on travel news website Tnooz. "TSA needs to assume from TT vendors the responsibility for managing members' background checks."

Mitchell is also critical of TSA's plans for the private sector to research, develop and implement new technology. 

"TSA controls an approval process that effectively blocks the kind of innovation-based competition envisioned by early program proponents," he explains. "A more effective and cost-efficient structure would be for TSA to own the complete screening technology sourcing budget and process."

In addition the mechanism for enrolling truster travellers should be expanded, with Mitchell proposing that the TSA tap into existing businesses with a nationwide footprint.

"What is needed is a strategic partnership with an organization owning a nationwide network of thousands "storefronts" (eg. FedEx Kinkos) where enrollment kiosks and staff could be efficiently deployed and where prospective TT members could conveniently schedule enrollment appointments."

Security expert Bruce Schneier, who has testified on security matters before the US Congress, has an even more critical opinion of Trusted Traveller and other databases, including the Secure Flight watch list:

"Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else -- Secure Flight and Trusted Traveller included -- is security theater."

"We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security -- both ensuring that a passenger's bags don't fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage -- as well as background checks and increased screening for airport employees."

Schneier continues:

"The truth is that whenever you create two paths through security -- a high-security path and a low-security path -- you have to assume that the bad guys will find a way to exploit the low-security path. It may be counterintuitive, but we are all safer if the people chosen for more thorough screening are truly random and not based on an error-filled database or a cursory background check."

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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