If you’re headed to the Super Bowl this weekend and you think the last you’re going to see of those TSA agents is at the airport, you figured wrong. The TSA is going to be making a guest appearance at the game, providing a controversial new service at the gates. It’s called “behavior observation,” so if you plan on acting strangely while you’re in line to get in to the game, you’ll getting your own special interrogation before anyone allows you inside the stadium.
(She’s nervous about leaving her cat alone for the weekend. Or she’s engaged in a Jihad against America. One or the other.)
TSA agents who underwent seven days of training in this will be looking for things such as “sweating, avoiding eye contact or talking evasively.” In other words, things that people without seven days of training could probably detect as suspicious behavior. The “sweating” provision might not bode well for some of the larger Steeler fans who will be waiting in long lines in the heat. Or John Madden, for that matter.
The ACLU, naturally, isn’t too excited about all of this.
USA TODAY has the story, and explains how it works:
Behavior observation aims to find people in crowds acting unusually. A flagged person gets a casual interview from an officer who determines if he or she should be formally questioned or arrested.
At the Tampa Police request, the TSA is sending dozens of its behavior officers to Tampa to watch spectators entering 75,000-seat Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, said Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. The TSA on Jan. 13 gave a four-hour training overview on behavior detection to 100 Tampa-area police, TSA operations chief Lee Kair said.
I don’t know how this is something you can really learn in four hours, or even a week. Is reading people’s intentions something that we just want to be trusting to random security agents?
The ACLU didn’t take long to weigh in:
The American Civil Liberties Union says that the technique is unproven and that its use at a stadium sets an alarming precedent for police inquiries.
“Police shouldn’t be stopping and questioning people unless they have some credible reason to suspect them. Behavior detection is just too vague,” ACLU analyst Barry Steinhardt said. He noted sarcastically, “If we’re going to use this at high-profile sporting events, why not start using it on streets?”
I agree with his first statement, which is that this method seems way too vague. It would be one thing if we were dealing with behavioral experts who had spent years honing their craft. But these are just the people who normally are looking at your license and making sure it’s you, or telling you to throw your hair gel out. While they’re fine people and should be commended for the job they do, is this the kind of work they really can be qualified for?
As for Steinhardt’s second argument, I’m not so sure. Sporting events that require a ticket are still private events, and I’ve always thought that venues should have the authority to ensure the safety of those in attendance through reasonable searches. It’s not, in my mind, equal to patting down people who are simply walking down the street.
So is this a ridiculous personal intrusion? My gut says that it might be, but at the same time I understand the need to be diligent these days. It’s tough to strike the right balance.