TSA Pre-Check Takes Flight


By Samuel Greengard

One of the ironies of the digital age is that having a growing constellation of databases doesn't always result in greater intelligence. That's because databases too often exist as islands, and no one bothers to connect them in meaningful and useful ways. Unfortunately, we all pay a price for that.

Over the last decade, air travel has been a poster child for this problem. In an attempt to ensure security in the post 9/11 era, millions of law-abiding travelers must endure an array of hassles in order to protect everyone from an exceedingly rare exception—a terrorist.

Shoes off. Belt off. Unpack your laptop. Peel off your hat and coat. Put your mobile phone and wristwatch in a bin and pass it through the security check. Then send it back through for a second examination. Suffer the pat down. Ok. Now get dressed, grab all your stuff and run to the gate.

Kudos to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration for expanding the TSA Pre√ (Pre-Check) expedited screening program, which attempts to focus resources on higher-risk passengers.

Before I left for a recent flight in Portland, Ore., the TSA determined that I was a low risk. No need to remove my shoes or belt while passing through the metal detector. The bag went through the X-ray machine, and we were all done. The process was about as low stress and efficient as it could possibly be.

It's great to see an example of a government agency transforming mountains of data into useful information and knowledge. In the business world, we all receive too many misdirected marketing messages. We also experience way too many glitches because companies don't sync up their databases or connect efficiently with partners and third-party suppliers. Unfortunately, government has traditionally lagged behind business.

Many of these issues will be addressed over the next decade. Fortunately, the systems and tools for mining data and understanding it in a highly contextual and useful way are improving dramatically. For now, I'm content to see that the TSA is taking steps to create a more intelligent system that speeds lines and minimizes hassles while striving to keep everyone safe.