Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Who Do You Trust?

There's a world of difference between how much trust the citizens of various nations have in their government. This is particularly obvious here in New Zealand where, while listening to a radio news show recently, I marveled as caller after caller expressed confidence in their government's ability to properly handle the crisis in earthquake-riddled Christchurch. 

To an American it sounds downright quaint, but on second thought, I'm envious. 

Now comes John Pistole, top dog at the US Transportation Security Administration, promising that he'll grant the aviation industry its biggest wish and start assessing travelers by the risk they really, truly, pose using a Trusted Traveler program.

Don't look here for details. Don't look anywhere, because right now the program is one glimmer more than a gleam in the eye of the air travel industry. But even without specifics the idea of making subjective judgments about who is a threat and who is not, cuts across American egalitarian principals. And it runs up against a national distrust of government. 

That double whammy may be the thing that makes implementing Trusted Traveler most difficult. Granted, how to handle personal information, and what kinds of past indiscretions will make an ordinary person "untrusted" for purposes of airport screening are sticky and complex. (Does a youthful arrest for marijuana possession make one likely to commit a terrorist act? Unlikely. Will TSA agree? Who knows?)

But Pistole's promise to take this on, follows by just weeks his appearance before the International Air Transport Association in Singapore where he toured the airline executives prototype checkpoint of the future and made some promises that security screening would someday include differentiating among passengers based on their security risk.

Speaking to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Pistole said the TSA was working with American carriers initially, to see how security could be improved with the personal, passenger-supplied information that the agency could use to make "informed judgments."

An "informed" government can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on one's point of view. Here in New Zealand, I've spoken to half a dozen people who tell me, they go out of their way to avoid the USA when traveling. Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and the airlines that serve these hub airports are the beneficiary of America's reputation for  horrendous, intrusive and risk-oblivious security checkpoints. 

Okay, trust of government appears to come included with Kiwi citizenship. Perhaps their government deserves it. But that's a much harder sell in America. 

One thing's for sure, before things are going to get better with airport security, a lot of  hard decisions will have to be made about how to decide who to trust and whether John Pistole can be trusted to lead the way.


Anonymous said...

As a long-term airline pilot, the inconsistency of security screening between countries, and indeed between cities within one country, baffles me.

Furthermore, I have to undergo numerous security checks every two years to qualify for the issue of my Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) that must be displayed continuously when I am airside at an airport. This seems to account for nothing as I am regularly pulled aside for additional "random" screening. Surely, this is complete waste of time. There must be a better way.

Christine Negroni said...

Stephen - There IS a better way. Though getting there will certainly not be easy.