Almost anyone who has been stuck in the airport security screening line has at least mumbled to themselves about the process, but a new report from CNN says that such behavior could lead to travelers being singled out for further screening.
The news channel says that complaining is one of around 70 behavioral indicators used by TSA detection officers to identify “high risk” passengers.
One indicator reads: “Very arrogant and expresses contempt against airport passenger procedures.”
Even though the TSA says it requires several indicators to tag someone as a threat, a former FBI agent who now works for the ACLU tells CNN that we should be able to complain without worrying about possibly be subjected to more scrutiny:
Expressing your contempt about airport procedures — that’s a First Amendment-protected right… We all have the right to express our views, and particularly in a situation where the government is demanding the ability to search you.
“It’s circular reasoning where, you know, I’m going to ask someone to surrender their rights; if they refuse, that’s evidence that I need to take their rights away from them. And it’s simply inappropriate.
The TSA currently has around 3,000 behavior detection officers as part of its Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) program.
According to CNN:
[U]niformed behavior detection officers typically work in two-person teams at airport checkpoint lines, looking for behaviors that are on the SPOT checklist, each of which is assigned a numerical value.
The officers sometimes initiate casual conversations with passengers, particularly if a passenger is exhibiting behaviors on the SPOT checklist.
In most instances, the Accountability Office said, the conversation resolves the suspicion.
But if both behavior detection officers agree that observed indicators exceed a predetermined numerical threshold, the person is referred to additional screening, which can involve more questioning and physical searches of a person or property.
If that person’s SPOT point value continues to rise, agents can refer that person to law enforcement officers.
“SPOT identifies high-risk travelers at a significantly higher rate then random screening,” says the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate about a recent department study.
Of course any number multiplied by zero still equals zero, which is basically the caveat issued by a member of that study’s advisory committee: “The hit rate is so low on this, it could turn out to be a random glitch.”