(Possible) Clarification on the TSA No Opt Out Policy

When reporting yesterday on the news that the TSA chose to remove, at its discretion, the ability for travelers to opt out of the body imaging scanners there was one major open question I kept coming back to:

Who gets to decide what “as warranted by security considerations” means and will that information be shared publicly in some way?

Through a helpful contact and some Congressional inquiries it seems that there is a good chance we have an answer to that question. This source suggests that “nothing has changed UNLESS you are on the watch list.” Which is good news and bad news all rolled in to one.

It is good news (assuming it is accurate) as it means the change does not affect the vast majority of passengers. Of the tiny subset who opt out of the AIT screening the overwhelming majority are not on any watch lists.

Read More: TSA Kills the Opt Out Option

It is bad news, however, in that it lends further credibility to the debacle which is these watch lists, collections of names with countless errors, zero transparency and no reasonable means to recover once listed. Clarity is lacking as to exactly which list is being referenced, but presumably it would be the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).

Part of the text of the new TSA policy on AIT opt-outs
Part of the text of the new TSA policy on AIT opt-outs

It is also unclear how a travelers presence on the list will be communicated to the agents at the airport and, generally speaking, it is impossible to know if you’re even on the list. The “SSSS” designation on a boarding pass could be used but that happens for travelers not on the list, too. If a non-listed passenger gets SSSS and is denied the opt out option then the TSA would be violating its own policies. And most any other indication will be determined quickly enough (remember when the TSA added the “secret” PreCheck designator to boarding pass barcodes??) so it is hard to believe that there is a way to implement this such that it doesn’t break a rule somewhere along the way.

If this clarification turns out to be accurate then the good news outweighs the bad. But it is still a spectacular mess the TSA has built up.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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