Registered Traveler Lists

Some of us are of the opinion that in a free society it is generally not a good thing to have your name on a government established list. And when you have to pay annually to keep your name on the list, it adds insult to injury. A government in a democratic society is not supposed to impose a fee on the citizenry as a sign of trust, and if it does, doesn’t that mean that those who don’t, can’t or won’t pay to remain on the respected citizens list are less trustworthy than those who do?

The Registered Traveler Program, TSA’s latest attempt to profile air travelers without face to face confrontation not only doesn’t feel right to me, it will not do what it advertises to do: increase the level of aviation security. The program will sell a Registered Traveler identification card to air travelers willing to provide a private issuing company personal information about them. The information being sought by Uncle Sam who will be verifying its accuracy will include such things as biometrics, criminal arrest records, bank accounts, real estate holdings and whatever else TSA, which hasn’t yet revealed everything on its passenger information wish list, may decide makes one passenger less of a risk than another. Nor has TSA yet stated what benefits may accrue to the program’s participants, playing that one close to the vest so that it may vary those benefits to trip-up any terrorist who might penetrate the program and then try to take advantage of security vulnerability which is a good plan.

Among the Registered Traveler Program’s many flaws is the fact that buying a security clearance in general strikes me at least as an oxymoron. Surely either you are or are not a risk for reasons other than your ability to buy your status. Those who are most often subjected to the most onerous security checks are often selected for reasons that make them least likely to be able or need to participate in the program; they are not frequent flyers as the very young and the very old don’t fly as often as those who are more likely to want to shell out an extra $80 to $100 a year.

As for achieving the goal of improved security, how does providing an exclusive screening lane for club members improve aviation security overall? Do Registered Travelers become less of a risk than they were before they registered? Nor are there likely to be many sophisticated travelers foolish enough to exchange vital personal information for a fast lane through security when they still must, as the sign says, go through security! For most of those willing to invest $80 just to test it out, what will they get that their airline frequent flyer, club member or elite level identification card isn’t already providing in many airports around the nation – and for free?

Once again we are claiming to reduce a security threat by smoke and mirrors rather than by eliminating the problem of exposure to explosives and other weapons. You do not manage the foreseeable risk of explosives on airliners by allowing some passengers to board faster. If the government wants to sell security “upgrades” as it were, then do it! Calling a registered traveler program which is for sale a security program does not make air travel any safer than it is without it. Some have argued that by “clearing” some passengers in advance, we free up our screeners from looking for so much minutia from so many sources. But therein lays the folly because the mass of the traveling public will still be subjected to unproductive searches for insignificant objects while the few are cleared for a quicker passage through security while possibly being given an opportunity for a significant breach of security. It seems to me to make more sense to limit what we are screening for to real weapons that can do real destruction to airliners in flight as the way to move everybody more quickly and more securely.

What are the characteristics of a traveler that makes him or her less of a security risk? What is there about your bank account, or real estate holdings, or educational level that makes you immune from treachery or terrorism? Is there something about where you were born, your faith or your driving infractions that makes you more likely to be a threat to our national security than another with a different pedigree, or a lack of religious affiliations or a spotless driving record? And if there is some credibility to a program that profiles passengers for a security clearance without any human behavioral analysis, can it long remain credible if it is for sale by private companies? How many subjective demerits will it take to cause a seller of security clearances to deny a registered traveler card to a paying customer; how many demerits are tolerable for $80? And if one of the benefits of membership is the removal of a name wrongly placed on the “Watch List,” why should the person so victimized by government be further “fined” to correct government’s wrong by being “encouraged” to buy a registered traveler status?

If the Department of Homeland Security believes that they have a formula for identifying terrorist threats without the necessity of putting air travelers through physical security, then hand out the “applications for permission to fly in commercial aviation,” and require all who wish to do so to become registered passengers, to do less is to be negligent. If the government wishes to sell “indulgences” to those who believe what is being offered is a first class ride through security, then go right head, I am sure there are those who will buy without being misled about that which they are purchasing.

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