TSA Could Adopt Israeli-Style Behavior-Detection Techniques

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Nir Elias / Reuters

Passengers queue for security checks near information boards at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv

Being characteristically vague, TSA chief John Pistole announced that new behavior detection techniques, based on models from “around the world” could “probably” be introduced in August.

During an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, Pistole said that his agency plans to implement techniques that engage passengers in conversation, much like the procedures followed at Israeli airports. Those flying into Israel are subject to questions about where they are visiting from, why they are visiting, what their plans are during the visit, as well as personal questions about their family, occupation and ethnicity. Border patrol officers also use similar methods with drivers crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

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While Pistole did not specify the exact techniques or which countries he plans to model them after, he did say that “there’s a lot — under that Israeli model — a lot that is done that is obviously very effective.” But some critics have called the Israeli model too time-consuming, with some travelers claiming that they have been stopped for up to two hours at the airport. Others worry that the new techniques could make an already charged checkpoint atmosphere in the U.S. even more touchy because of the possibility of ethnic or racial profiling.

The TSA already employs behavior detection officers at 161 airports across the country, and in June a group of those agents were reported to have targeted Mexicans and Dominicans at Newark Liberty International Airport as a way to boost their performance record. With the issues that the TSA already faces at security checkpoints because of privacy and health concerns, the agency would do well to tread carefully.

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Frances Romero is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @frances_romero. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.