Soon, weary passengers will be able to breeze through airport security checkpoints with their shoes on, all while leaving their laptops and approved liquids in their carry-on bags. Well, those who qualify for the Transportation Security Administration's newly expanded PreCheck program will.
Signing up will require more than just filling out a form. You will have to pay $85, pass a background check, and go for an in-person interview, where you will also have your fingerprints taken.
Then, if the TSA decides with "high confidence that you are not a terrorist," as TSA chief John Pistole told CNN, you will get a five-year membership in the PreCheck program. That means you will be able to enter separate, expedited security lines and pass through checkpoints like a decent human being, with jacket, belt, and shoes on. You will also get to keep your laptop and small water bottles in your carry-on bag.
Not that you will be completely free from suspicion. In its announcement, the TSA noted that it will "always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening."
Still, for frequent fliers and business travelers, it could save a lot of time. Not to mention allowing "the TSA to better focus its limited resources on passengers who are most likely to pose a threat to security," wrote The Heritage Foundation's Elizabeth Simson.
By expanding those eligible for the PreCheck program from a limited number of international travelers to the general public, the TSA hopes to have 25 percent of the population signed up for expedited screening by the end of 2013.
When the program launches "sometime this year," travelers will only be able to enroll at Washington Dulles International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport, although additional enrollment centers should be forthcoming.
So what is the downside to less hassle at the airport? You could relinquish a fair amount of privacy, warned Fast Company's Neal Ungerleider.
"The TSA and its contractors are looking for personal information above and beyond your standard address and Social Security number, and it's certainly looking for publicly available profiles of American citizens by large marketing firms," wrote Ungerleider. "Apparently, your Facebook likes and consumer demographic profile could help you get accepted or rejected for express lines at the airport."
Then there are the poor shmucks standing in the regular security line, who might be irked as PreCheck members walk by them, as Ralph Nader noted in The New York Times when the program was first made available to international travelers:
It's stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes. The only thing that has developed tolerance for this mass nonsense that is going on at the TSA checkpoints is that everybody is supposed to be exposed to it. Once that is shattered there is going to be a lot of resentment among those who watch others zip through while we wait and nudge forward and get shouted at to take our shoes off. [The New York Times]