The Transportation Security Agency has quietly rolled out the Pre-Check program that allows frequent travelers to voluntarily submit to a background check, interview and fingerprints in exchange for a much faster experience through TSA checkpoints in airports. Is this program convenient for frequent travelers or something much more invasive?
Since 2011, the TSA has tested the program at 40 different airports. It allows pre-screened travelers to proceed through TSA checkpoints without removing their shoes and belt. Light jackets can be worn and computers / liquids can remain in carry-on luggage.
The program requires an $85 enrollment fee, but there is no guarantee that travelers will pass the background check and get approved – or be provided a reason if denied. Worse, approved travelers are still not guaranteed to swiftly breeze through TSA checkpoints due to the agency’s random screening of pre-checked passengers and lengthening Pre-Check lines. Approved passengers can be removed from the program at any time, without notice or reason. However, their background information remains saved.
The FBI keeps fingerprint records on file for 75 years and are used in the investigation of crimes by local and federal law enforcement agencies. Along with a background check and personal interview, financial information is also required before passengers are approved for the program, which is NOT protected under the Privacy Act of 1974. As a result, travelers are not permitted to request a copy of the information that the TSA investigation keeps on them, which makes it nearly impossible for law-abiding travelers to ensure accuracy and protect against abuses of personal information.
Privacy rights activists are concerned over the information that average Americans are willingly giving up to the government. “I would not apply for one of these trusted-traveler programs, which in the past have involved giving the government more information or authorizing it to get more information about me,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Lee Tien.
Even if you are lucky enough to get approved for the program, there is no guarantee that the “elite-line” will be any faster than the regular TSA checkpoint lines, or more organized. “Most recently, I was flying Delta from LaGuardia and the TSA PreCheck line at the terminal looked like it was a mile long and not moving very fast at all while the normal and elite security lines were chugging along and a lot shorter,” remarked one traveler. “The non-TSA agents manning the lines were not checking for TSA Precheck and frankly the whole situation was out of hand. Something is wrong with this picture. Or many somethings.”
After the TSA expanded the Pre-Check program to 60 airports earlier in the year, passengers nationwide have noticed a distinct lengthening of lines through the very Pre-Check areas that were designed to avoid long and frustrating wait periods that the unwashed traveler is subjected to.
Now, 97 airports participate in the program.