AirTalk for August 24, 2011

TSA chat downs – are they effective?

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents screen passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.

The Israelis have been using it successfully for decades to weed out terrorist suspects but until now behavioral profiling has only been used occasionally at U.S. airports. Last week Boston’s Logan International Airport started requiring every passenger to undergo a brief conversation or a “chat down” with a security official who is trained to spot suspicious behavior. The traveler is asked a number of simple questions like where are you going, for what reason and for how long. The security officer is trained to notice various non-verbal cues or “tells” that may indicate that the passenger is lying or hiding something. Those clues might include profuse sweating, eye movements and other involuntary behaviors and physiological reactions that people can’t avoid when they are trying to conceal information. Some legal experts express doubt that TSA officers can be trained in a relatively short time to recognize the right clues. These critics say it’s difficult to sort out real terrorists from those people who are just nervous about travelling and training low level TSA officers to skillfully recognize bad guys in 30 seconds will be extremely challenging. But TSA officials respond that the goal is not to identify terrorists but pinpoint high-risk passenger for further screening. What do you think of behavioral profiling? Do you think it will work in U.S. airports where millions of passengers are travelling through? Does this practice raise civil rights concerns?

Guests:

George Naccara, Federal Security Director for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Logan Airport in Boston

Michael German, Policy Counsel at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office in Washington D.C.

Paul Ekman, psychologist and pioneer in the study of facial expressions


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