Before pat-downs, TSA tries 'chat-downs' in Boston

Transportation Security Administration agents are trying out a new behavioral recognition tactic, starting Aug. 2 at Boston’s Logan International Airport, writes the Boston Globe’s Katie Johnston.

TSA officers will get chatty with travelers, asking a few questions to all passengers departing through the airport’s Terminal A. Those questions will be something like, “Where are you traveling today?” and “How long have you been in town?” Johnston writes.

The agency already has behavior detection officers working at 161 U.S. airports, according to TSA’s website. Those officers observe travelers at airports for signs of anxiety or nervous actions, and they might recommend extra security screening.

The Boston test will add more personal interaction to that program as agents speak directly with travelers. Behavioral analysis can reveal people’s true emotions, even when they try to mask them. A TSA official emphasized that point, telling Johnston that the agents are more interested in travelers’ reactions than the actual content of their answers.

TSA is looking for new methods of ensuring safe air travel while minimizing privacy invasions. In the court of public opinion, the balance seemed to be tipping decidedly toward invasive security at the expense of personal privacy. However, TSA announced last month that it is releasing a software upgrade for the Advanced Imaging Technology scanners so that the machines would no longer produce explicitly detailed images of travelers’ naked bodies.

Objections by travelers to being patted down also has drawn the attention of the Texas state legislature, which has twice tried to pass legislation making some pat-downs a crime.


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Michael Protos is a web content editor with 1105 Government Information Group.

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Reader Comments

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 Traveler Maryland

The Israeli's are most well known for using this approach, rather effecively, however several other countries have used it to good effect. Given the choices between indesrimate, hit or miss, randon screening, or "racial" profiling, or chatting with a TSA agent, I would think most intelligent people would vote for the chat.

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 Mimi CO

I'm not convinced most of TSA are highly educated to begin with. Giving them authority to practice specialized psychology (behavioral science) without a license and without accredited education is likely to result in legal issues. Next, the Gov't will allow TSA to determine if a passenger should be committed because they look or seem crazy!

Wed, Aug 3, 2011 bandit

"In the court of public opinion, the balance seemed to be tipping decidedly toward invasive security at the expense of personal privacy." Really? How are they measuring this and where? Polling? "Would you rather be blown out of the sky by a terrorist, or groped by a friendly TSA agent? Please choose one or the other."

Wed, Aug 3, 2011 vhm Maryland

Sounds like we are learning from the Israeli model.

Wed, Aug 3, 2011 Cowboy Joe

Boston, eh ... isn't "chatty New Englander" a bit of an oxymoron? Worse yet, Behavioral analysis is a bit of a black art most psychologists have trouble with - let alone highly trained law engforcement officers - and I'm gonna trust the "Thousands Standing Around" to be experts in this technique why?

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