TSA testing gender-neutral screening algorithms with airport scanners

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The Transportation Security Administration plans to upgrade screening technology at airport checkpoints to be gender neutral, starting with algorithmic testing over the coming months.

Replacing gender-based algorithms currently enabling Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units at airport checkpoints with more accurate, efficient gender-neutral ones will protect the civil rights and improve the experience of travelers, who’d otherwise trigger alarms prompting pat-down screenings of sensitive parts of their bodies.

TSA received $18.6 million in the fiscal 2022 budget to develop, test and deploy enhanced AIT algorithms nationwide, a process the agency announced — along with new screening standards for transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming airline passengers — on International Transgender Day of Visibility this Thursday.

“Today’s announcement acknowledges the input received from coalition partners and recognizes the transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming community,” a TSA spokesperson told FedScoop. “The AIT system updates represent a change in the screening algorithm that is currently being tested.”

TSA expects those updates to begin at airports in 2023, pending the results of testing this year, the spokesperson said.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for transportation security officers will also be updated to limit invasive screenings for certain passengers, who trigger AIT scanner alarms, without compromising security.

TSA already updated checkpoint SOPs in February to make gender information on forms of identification irrelevant in determining whether a traveler may proceed to the screening area. But the agency is also updating its TSA PreCheck program to include an X gender marker on its application.

Applicants will be able to select the X alternative gender category, once a software update is complete, and TSA PreCheck enrollees will be able to self-attest their gender irrespective of identification documents starting in early April.

Current TSA PreCheck members can change the gender associated with their account by calling customer service at (855) 347-8371 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET on weekdays, which will have no effect on their expedited screening.

The agency is working with airlines to promote the use and acceptance of the X gender marker, which two major, domestic carriers already accept, along with a U marker for undisclosed, in their travel reservation systems. A third airline plans to do so later this year, and most accommodate gender changes upon request.

TSA has a webpage announcing all its gender-related updates.

The Inclusion Action Committee the agency launched in August 2020 expedited its most recent efforts.

“On this internationally recognized day for the transgender community, TSA is proud to announce significant initiatives as a direct result of close partnership with community stakeholders,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in the announcement. “Over the coming months, TSA will move swiftly to implement more secure and efficient screening processes that are gender neutral, as well as technological updates that will enhance security and make TSA PreCheck enrollment more inclusive.”

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advanced imaging technology (AIT), algorithms, passenger screenings, Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
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