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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 2, 2006

Coming to airports: chatty bag screeners?

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, the folks in charge of airport security, has realized that its baggage screeners are more than X-ray jockeys.

They're human beings capable of extraordinary intelligence-gathering abilities, if they were only allowed to engage travelers in idle conversation. So the TSA wants its screeners to chat you up in the name of national security.

It's a new test program that could spread to Hawai'i.

The idea is that through interaction, nosy agents may pick up clues, physical tics or details that reveal a traveler who is scared, stressed or under duress. But it could also lead to the needless harassment of someone simply nervous about flying.

And then there's the profiling issue. Would an agent chat only with those wearing turbans and beards? Before such a chat program goes nationwide, the testing period should be thorough enough to make sure chatting agents are respectful of civil liberties.