American air travelers would be subject to fewer body scans and patdowns if the Transport Safety Administration implemented some Israeli profiling techniques, an expert says.
While there is no danger in using the new full body scanners that have been implemented in most airports in the United States, subjecting travelers to the invasive body scans – or their even more invasive alternatives, the “enhanced body search” - wouldn't be as necessary if the United States “profiled” travelers as Israel does, says Israeli security expert Alon Wainer, owner of Level Five HLS Consulting.
“The United States and Israel share a great deal of, information and techniques on air security, and we both use the same equipment, including the full-body scanner. The difference is that in the U.S., the scanner is the default security check method, while in Israel it is an exceptional method,” he says.
Those scanners, Wainer says, are used at Ben Gurion Airport to check suspected smugglers, and are in use at several land border crossings. But all Israeli border points also utilize a form of profiling, which the United States has decided to forgo. “Since they don't do profiling, they have no way to determine who is a greater and lesser risk – so they have to treat everyone as a potential security risk,” Wainer told Israel National News.
The profiling done by Israel, however, is not based on race or ethnicity, but is based more on behavior and other cues that highly trained Israeli security personnel are trained to pick up. “In the U.S., they don't even profile on the basis of flight destination anymore, but they realize the bad people are out there – so they have no choice but to treat everyone as potentially guilty unless proven innocent, and check them in the scanners," Wainer says.
In fact, he adds, profiling techniques would help U.S. security officials even more than they help Israeli officials. “There's no question that the Transport Safety Administration has a much harder job than us, and many of the things done in Israel would be much harder to implement in the U.S., given the much higher volume of passengers,” Wainer says. But it is precisely for that reason behavioral profiling would be so helpful – to eliminate the large majority of passengers that are safe, and to use limited resources more efficiently.
The scanners themselves, by the way, are not dangerous, Wainer says, despite the fears of many Americans that they are going to get “zapped” by X-rays or other radiation when going through the machines. “The scanners work using radio waves that bounce off the body and form an image on the display,” Wainer explains.
“The waves are too weak to penetrate the body, and the image also does not reveal any specific physical components of the body. However, they are definitely invasive to the passenger's privacy – you can see what brand of underwear they are wearing, along with other information most people would probably prefer to keep secret.” And while the scanners are now a part of travel life – and probably will be for the foreseeable future – Israeli-style profiling could go a long way to making a difficult process a bit easier, he adds.