TSA opens up request for design of shoe scanners for airports

One fewer inconvenience may be in the bidding for air travelers as the Transportation Security Administration this week filed a formal request for vendors to design a shoe scanning device.

Divine Harvester Photo (Creative Commons).

Like all things government, this effort comes with its very own acronym — SSD (for Shoe Scanning Device, naturally) — and the TSA says “The SSD system will be capable of detecting threat objects concealed in footwear without requiring passengers to remove their footwear as they pass through a security checkpoint.”

The TSA says 98 percent of passengers now put their shoes through the regular scanning device with their other belongings. “The removal of footwear takes time, reduces the efficiency of the checkpoint, creates safety concerns with footwear removal and contributes to passenger dissatisfaction. In addition, scanning footwear through the X-ray machine increases the volume of items that the Transportation Security Officers (TSO) at the X-ray machine must visually screen.”

The TSA began footwear checks 10 years ago after “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid tried to blow up a commerical airliner using explosives in this shoes.

The high-level goals of the SSD program include, obviously, fewer passengers having to take their shoes off, and at least meeting current screening capabilities. No extra TSO personnel should be needed, and the new system should lead to “increasing probability of detection, expanding detection capability to the full threat list. . .and reducing the probability of a false alarm.”

The TSA says it will post final requirements for the scanner on April 25th. It is unclear how long the development, selection and deployment process might take and we can put an end to the stinky stocking-foot shuffle.

Wired.com on Thursday noted past unsuccessful attempts by the TSA for shoe scanners (and a sniffer), including $200,000 prototypes from GE in 2007 that USA Today found required 50% of passengers to still take their shoes off.

Wired also broached the concept of ” ‘security theater’ — implementing measures because they look and feel reassuring rather than providing meaningful security.”

The shoe-removal policy and bans on liquids elicited some grumbling from the public, but nothing like the public outrage at TSA’s solution to future underwear bombers, when naked scanners, rolled out last fall.

“Of course it’s not going to make anyone safer,” [security expert Bruce] Schneier e-mails Danger Room about the shoe scanners, “but it will make the security theater go faster, and that’s a good thing.” We could all stand a little less undressing at airports these days.

But don’t let a marginally faster airport experience lull you into complacency. Shoe-scanning might get you through the security line quicker — assuming the scanner gizmo DHS wants actually works this time. But that doesn’t mean it’ll stop the next airborne terrorist.

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