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Overboard with Analytics? The TSA’s New Security Screening Software

We’re constantly talking about analytics and how it affects corporations and agencies, but how will it affect you?

We’re used to strict, and sometimes invasive, security precautions at the airport by Transportation Security Administration in order to keep our skies and travelers safe.

Using new analytics software, TSA officials will be able to identify individuals who have been previously profiled as criminals or suspicious.

“Here is how it works: With the software, a federal agent can find out who an individual has emailed incriminating information to, based on seized computers, while simultaneously inferring which websites that individual has visited based on cloned hard drive data. At the same time, the agent can be examining the timestamp on a digital photo file retrieved from a smartphone to determine where the suspect was on a certain date. The technology does not intercept emails, wiretap smartphones or perform other types of real-time surveillance. Rather, it extracts emails, digital recordings or other communications and files that an agency has collected in the past,” (i)

It is still unclear how exactly the TSA is going to use analytics. There has been discussion of using consumer behavior analyses as well as other ‘non-governmental data elements’ (ii) to determine whether or not people need to go through certain security protocol. Those with positive assessments would get to skip certain procedures, while those who “score” badly would be subject to a more extensive search. This is all just discussion. No one actually knows what information is to be used and people are not even allowed to see their own records.

Previous conversations involving TSA and analytics software have caused quite a stir. The possibility of profiling for flight risks raised many questions.

1. What information will be used for profiling?

2. What if the information collected in the past has somehow been changed? Will the information be updated and accurate?

3. How will the TSA use the information that is discovered? Will it prevent certain people from flying?

What do you think? Is this a good use of analytics by a federal agency?


(i) Tool Will Help TSA Connect the Dots Among Scattered Pieces of Digital Evidence- NextGov
(ii) Big Data Meets Big Brother in the Passenger Screening Line- NextGov

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Andrew Krzmarzick

If there is something that can be done to expedite the screening process and still keep us safe, I’m all for it.

How / where they are getting all the data to make those decisions, however, is something that we ought to know a little bit more about as tax-paying citizens who support these efforts.

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Bryce Bender

I’m a big fan of analytics and proper use of the data could lead to streamlined screening process at airports, but misuse of data is a big question mark. As Andy said, more information about where the data comes from and who would be in charge of administering it is important.

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