New York Times | You may think of this as the summer of the heat wave. I prefer to think of it as the summer of the body scanner.
Transportation Security Administration buys these machines and installs them at more and more airport checkpoints, a lot of travelers are having their initial encounters with them. And while I hear from large numbers of readers who hate the idea, it’s becoming increasingly clear that body scanners will soon be a standard part of the air travel experience.
Today, 142 body scanners are in use at 41 airports, and the security administration says it will have more than 450 installed by the end of the year.
The Washington Post | Tell the government what you think of its proposed new passenger rights rules. You can do it right now, thanks to a new project called Regulation Room.
There's a lot to comment about. The rules cover everything from tarmac delays to peanuts. If adopted, they could change the way Americans fly more than any single regulation since the airline industry was deregulated in 1978.
Administrative rulemaking, for those of you who snoozed through your civics class, is the process by which agencies adopt regulations that have the force of law. In this case, it's the Department of Transportation making the rules. The agency is at a critical step during which the traveling public vets these important regulations.
Washington (CNN) | The Senate confirmed Deputy FBI Director John Pistole as head of the Transportation Security Administration on Friday, ending a lengthy search process in which two previous nominees withdrew from consideration.
Pistole's nomination was approved by unanimous consent.
Pistole received praise for his law enforcement experience from both Democrats and Republicans during the confirmation process. His hearings were instead dominated by politically polarizing labor issues—specifically whether airport screeners should be allowed to unionize. The controversy had resulted in a GOP senator—Jim DeMint of South Carolina—placing a hold on an earlier TSA nominee.
The Washington Post | The Obama administration is abandoning its policy of using nationality alone to determine which U.S.-bound international air travelers should be subject to additional screening and will instead select passengers based on possible matches to intelligence information, including physical descriptions or a particular travel pattern, senior officials said Thursday.
After the attempted bombing of an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas Day, U.S. officials decided that passengers from or traveling through 14 specified countries would be subjected to secondary searches. Critics have since called the measures discriminatory and overly burdensome, and the administration has faced pressure to refine its approach.
Under the new system, screeners will stop passengers for additional security if they match certain pieces of known intelligence.
Photo courtesy of iStock
USA Today | Today's smartphones and PDAs could have a new use in the nation's airports: helping passengers avoid long lines at security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration is looking at installing devices in airports that home in and detect personal electronic equipment. The aim is to track how long people are stuck in security lines. Information about wait times could then be posted on websites and in airports across the country.
"This technology will produce valuable data that can be used in a variety of ways," TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said, noting it could help prevent checkpoint snarls.
But civil-liberties experts worry that such a system enables the government to track people's whereabouts. "It's serious business when the government begins to get near people's personal-communication devices," said American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert Jay Stanley.
USA Today | Flight attendants press for hand-to-hand combat training as anti-terror measure The Association of Flight Attendants is pushing Congress to fund combat training as part of a four-point plan that the union says would improve security inside aircraft cabins. The Los Angeles Times reports the union "hopes that lawmakers will include money to put some of their ideas into action under an upcoming funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration."
According to the Times, the attendants' four-point plan includes: "Mandatory hand-to-hand combat training for all crew members"; portable communication devices that would allow attendants to speak with pilots during emergencies; a standard maximum size for carry-on luggage "so that flight attendants can look for suspicious passengers instead of struggling with oversized bags"; and the ability to shut down in-flight Wi-Fi "during high-threat periods to prevent terrorists from communicating with collaborators on the ground."
Photo courtesy of iStock
Washington (CNN) | President Obama has tapped a former Army general to lead the Transportation Security Administration, sources have told CNN.
Obama plans to nominate Robert A. Harding, a retired major general with 33 years in the Army, to become the TSA administrator, sources said. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will announce the nomination Monday with Harding by her side, according to one administration official.
"The TSA administrator is the most important unfilled post in the Obama administration," one administration official said. "Mr. Harding has the experience and perspective to make a real difference in carrying out the mission of the agency."
I don’t know about you, but I curse Richard Reid, the goofy-looking “shoe bomber,” every time I have to go through airport security—especially this time of year, when my slip-on, slip-off shoes are deep in storage. Amid talk of high-tech body scanners and some eight years after Reid's failed attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound American Airlines flight by igniting explosives hidden in his footwear, shoe security still proves elusive.
Which brings me to an email I got today from the Transportation Security Administration (if you’re a frequent traveler and don’t subscribe to the agency’s email news list, you should). Its subject line: What Ever Happened To The Shoe Scanner Idea? What ever happened indeed.
London, England (CNN) | In the name of improved security a hacker showed how a biometric passport issued in the name of long-dead rock 'n' roll king Elvis Presley could be cleared through an automated passport scanning system being tested at an international airport.
Using a doctored passport at a self-serve passport machine, the hacker was cleared for travel after just a few seconds and a picture of the King himself appeared on the monitor's display.
Adam Laurie and Jeroen Van Beek, who call themselves "ethical hackers," say the exercise exposed how easy it is to fool a passport scanner with a fraudulent biometric chip.
CNN (Washington) | To the list of instructions you hear at airport checkpoints, add this: "Put your palms forward, please."
The Transportation Security Administration soon will begin randomly swabbing passengers' hands at checkpoints and airport gates to test them for traces of explosives.
Previously, screeners swabbed some carry-on luggage and other objects as they searched for the needle in the security haystack—components of terrorist bombs in an endless stream of luggage.