Nov 22, 2010 8:17 PM by Zach Thaxton

Talks under way to discuss TSA "opt-out" at Springs airport

Colorado Springs City Councilman Sean Paige has begun discussions with airport director Mark Earle to look into the possibility of utilizing private vendors to perform security screenings rather than agents from the Transportation Security Administration.

Paige says he has had e-mail exchanges with Earle, asking him to provide a "thorough briefing" on non-TSA options for security screenings at the Colorado Springs Airport.  Paige planned to bring the topic up for discussion at Monday's informal City Council meeting, but Earle was out of town.

The issue is foremost in many Americans' minds due to strict new pat-down procedures at airports nationwide.  Many travelers complain the pat-downs are too invasive as TSA screeners are now required to touch breasts, buttocks, and genitals to inspect for possible explosives.  Public backlash has prompted the TSA to defend itself.  TSA Administrator John Pistole told NBC's "Today" show Monday, "We're going to look at how can we do the most effective screening in the least invasive way knowing there's always a trade-off between security and privacy and to where people can reasonably disagree as to the precise blend for them."

The Airport Advisory Commission looked at the pros and cons of switching to private vendors for security screening in 2006.  At that time, the commission opted not to make a switch.  Paige says now is the time to look at the issue again.  "I think we owe our passengers that come through the Colorado Springs Airport everything that we can do for them in terms of respecting their rights and respecting their privacy and respecting their dignity when they come to Colorado Springs or travel through our airport," Paige said.

Sixteen airports in the U.S. currently contract with private vendors for airport security, including San Francisco and Kansas City International Airports.  The Screening Partnership Program, or SPP, follows security procedures mandated by the Federal government, but airports select private vendors of their choice.  Paige says that affords an opportunity to be more picky when selecting screeners.  "If we can get better service or more humane and dignified service while maintaining our security, I think we ought to at least look at it and have that discussion," Paige said.

Paige says he would like to receive a thorough briefing from Earle sometime in January.


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