Last month the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced they were finally doing away with the awkward naked-body scanning imaging systems. When they were first introduced in 2007 they came under fire for violating the privacy of travelers. It’s not hard to see why. (No pun intended.)
But here’s the issue – it took them over five years to make the decision to change. Think about the huge costs (read: our tax dollars) in implementing these systems that will now be for naught.
- First, these scanners are simply going to be scrapped. This newfangled technology that cost a lot in research and development might have opened doors to new discoveries about thwarting threats with new systems, but it’s not like these machines can be retrofitted with completely different hardware. Instead of learning early on that the public hated the technology and pushing forth with the scanners anyway, time was wasted in investing in alternatives that could identify threats just as well but be less privacy-invading.
- Next, despite the public outcry over these machines and privacy violations, the TSA still went forward with putting them in place and further breaking down the public’s trust in the TSA. How many air travelers decided to not fly because of the reduced trust in the TSA? Air travel is becoming even more of a hassle – baggage fees, limits for liquids on carry-on luggage, scanners, shoes and belts removed, change fees, parking – and this is just another dissatisfaction for the pile.
- Were these machines even piloted with the public before full-scale implementation? We need more error-proofed solutions that minimize human intervention in identifying threats, but the machines created as many problems as they fixed. If the machines and the technology were piloted with focus groups and minimal hardware investment, the TSA might have found these issues early on and elected to move forward with less-invasive technology. Air travelers are as much of customers as is the TSA for these machines. Failing to take travelers’ fears into account helped drive this technology into the ground.
- How about the manual interventions airports had to put in place? Because of the public refusal to use the machines, more security lines had to be added for folks preferring pat-downs or manual scans by security personnel. Public fears of TSA agents at the scanner seeing the scans of patrons walking through being the equivalent of mentally undressing them, the scans were viewed in an office away from the scanners – this means having more security personnel away from the scanners and additional technology implementations to communicate the scans.
The scanners created a lot of problems – additional costs for personnel, public mistrust and continued frustration with air travel – and the TSA’s failure to address problems before full-scale implementation means that further-dwindling tax dollars were misspent.
The TSA should take a page from Eric Ries’s book The Lean Startup and read about minimum viable product. The TSA needs to learn how to listen the all of their customers more. This is just a start.