The security week that was: 04/16/10

A weekly surveillance of the news shaping your profession


Body scans at airports

Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with the former CISO for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Patricia Titus. Titus is now the CISO for Unisys' Federal Systems division, and we were speaking about some recent research that Unisys had produced in its "Security Index" (download PDF of current Security Index report). One of the discussions we had was centered around news from the Security Index that 65 percent of Americans would be willing to cooperate with full electronic body scans at the airport. In the UK, acceptance is at 90 percent for these scans. As we've reported this week, the body scanning technology is steadily being dispersed across the nation's airports. Prior to this week, 19 U.S. airports were using and testing the technology, and now 11 additional airports will be using the technology. One of the slow-downs in the adoption of this technology has been privacy concerns. While I've been subjected to these scans myself, I do think that the TSA is going to have an uphill battle in getting the public to be comfortable with these images, especially since some of these body scan images of real people have already been leaked and posted on unsavory websites.

I asked the former CISO of the TSA what she thought about long-term adoption of these technologies: "It's going to take building the trust with the public over time," said Titus. "It's just as when we first asked people to take their shoes off. They were uncomfortable with that at first. They have to help create comfort [with the body scanning process] and confidence. I think that the movement toward government transparency under Obama has helped build that confidence."

Titus added that although the flying public is becoming more comfortable with the body scans, the TSA is going to need to closely ensure that the images are private by implementing data protection procedures. However, the cat may already be out of the proverbial bag now that leaked body scan images are appearing on the Internet. Fortunately, it's still early in the public confidence stage of this technology implementation, and the December bombing attempt on the Northwest/Delta flight to Detroit may have people willing to be a bit more lenient in regards to their privacy (and even where these body scan images might end up in the hands of a nefarious TSA agent). "If we asked before December, the response [to this question of comfort with body scanning] might have been different," said Titus. One of the necessary efforts to encourage widespread adoption of this technology, she said, will be to help privacy advocates fully understand the technology, its limitations and the fact that the current systems will not allow for off-machine sharing of the images.

Breaking the mold of manned security
G4S' Levine wants to raise the value of a security officer by offering full technical solutions

I spoke this morning with Drew Levine, the president of G4S Secured Solutions, the company formerly known as G4S Wackenhut (see earlier news report on name change and strategy focus for G4S). While the full discussion will be available next week to our readers, one of the challenges that Levine said that his firm has faced (the company provides both manned security, business risk consulting and security technology services) is that manned security continues to be plagued by a low-cost, "commodity" type of mind-set. His firm's solution to this problem is to integrate manned security staffing with business risk/security consulting and use of technical security systems, a move which he says will streamline and improve an organization's overall security plan. Levine knows that this is a major mindset change for security buyers who typically just look for the lowest cost manned security program. "We are trying to break the mold where companies are just buying labor [when they hire out guard services]." Look for more of Levine's thoughts on how G4S is trying to change the value proposition of manned security on our site next week...

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