The International Air Transport Association, which is basically a TSA for the rest of the world, is demoing the "Checkpoint of the Future." It involves being "able to get from curb to boarding gate with dignity," without having to unpack your bag, take off your shoes, or, erm, get up close in personal with a security official.
At the heart of the system is three high-tech, 20-foot-long security tunnels that passengers would walk through based on risk assessment. A cocktail of scanners would check out each passenger as they walked, peeking into bags and shoes for contraband without the passenger having to unpack or remove either. It may sound like the far-flung future, but the IATA wants to get it done in the next five years.
Ever see Total Recall? It sounds a little like that, minus Arnold Schwarzenegger freaking out and smashing through a wall of glass.
In response to the IATA's dignified development, our very own Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said that airports in the U.S. could get something similar. "It's something that's long overdue,'' he said, adding, "We're not at the checkpoint of the future yet but we're working toward that. I think eventually we will see something similar."
Eventually, huh? Don't throw out your lead-lined underwear just yet.
The IATA's proposal isn't without opposition, however. The system would also include chips embedded in passengers' passports that determine their security clearance as a trusted traveler or a concern, and a retinal scan would match passengers to the passport they're carrying. All of this could be done in the security tunnel along with the other scans, theoretically, but there's a privacy issue there that would have to be approved by individual governments.
To my mind, there's another problem, too. The different tunnels are labeled "known traveler," "normal" and "enhanced," sorted by ascending security measures. No ordinary traveler is going to want to walk through the "enhanced" tunnel, and who would that even be? In the U.S., for instance, would that just be a line of Arabs? A good friend of DVICE, for example, finds herself and her family pulled aside at airport security without fail thanks to their Syrian passports, despite having lived in the country for decades.
A stigma could very easily form. All of the tunnels are right next to one another, too, and so after walking through "normal," you could be sitting at your terminal next to the person who went through "enhanced" beside you. What sense of security is that really going to give?
It's just a prototype, mind you, and I imagine they were focusing more on how the technology could work rather than addressing the social complexities of the system. Hopefully those are addressed at some point.
Update: The LA Times has a little more information here, and there's also a video covering how the "5 second airport scanner" would work over here. Some of you have pointed out in the comments below that the lanes wouldn't be labeled, which would certainly eliminate that stigma. Whether or not passengers really do undergo equal treatment in three identical lanes is something we'll have to see as development advances.