Coming Soon: Keeping Your Shoes On At The Airport


One of the most recognizable post-9/11 security rituals is on its way out, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Politico‘s Josh Gerstein reports that the days of taking your shoes off in the airport are coming to a close:

“We are moving towards an intelligence and risk-based approach to how we screen,” Napolitano told Mike Allen during a morning forum at the Newseum. “I think one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on. One of the last things you will [see] is the reduction or limitation on liquids.”

The phrase “risk-based approach” can mean different things in the context of airport security. Sometimes it’s a euphemism for Israeli-style passenger screening involving individual interviews and racial profiling, neither of which would fly politically in the US—and as Jeffrey Goldberg has pointed out, Israel’s one international airport has about half the traffic of one of Washington DC’s three.

Then there’s the “trusted traveler” approach, which would exempt certain frequent travelers from enhanced screening and focus on those about whom DHS has little information. TSA head John Pistole has been a supporter of the concept in the past, and he said in a speech two weeks ago that his agency will begin testing out this program in the fall. There are risks to this approach too—namely that exempting some passengers from screening procedures will create an obvious loophole for terrorists to exploit.

What will the “trusted traveler” approach mean for the average, non-frequent flier? Unclear, but the end of the era of taking off your shoes probably has more to do with the advent of invasive tech like backscatter machines than the new “intelligence-based approach” to airport security. As Napolitano told Politico, “The solution to many if not all of these inconveniences is better and better technology.” But what this may really mean is that the better TSA gets at invading your privacy, the less the agency needs your assistance in doing it. 

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