Records show TSA tracked Bluetooths to observe wait times

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

The document shows sensors were put in airport terminals to find Bluetooth devices, hone in on its signal and track people to see how long it takes to get through security checkpoints.

WASHINGTON - Channel 2 Action News has learned the Transportation Security Administration recently experimented with a controversial piece of technology that allowed agents to tap into the signal for passengers' Bluetooth devices and track their moves while walking through an airport.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane found out the idea was scrapped, but passenger groups aren't happy with his findings.

Documents obtained by MacFarlane show the TSA tested a project to measure just how long people were waiting in line at the airport.

The document shows sensors were put in airport terminals to find Bluetooth devices, hone in on its signal and track people to see how long it takes to get through security checkpoints.

An internal TSA document said it works by "detecting signals broadcast to the public by individual devices and calculating a wait time as the signal passes sensors positioned to cover the area in which passengers may wait in line."

The document said the information would be encrypted and destroyed within two hours to protect travelers' privacy.

MacFarlane learned the TSA tested the technology in 2012 in Las Vegas and Indianapolis, but bailed on it.

"This is an expensive and needlessly complicated way of estimating wait times compared with, say, a ticket agent write the time at the front of the line," said Julian Sanchez, author of "Wiretapping the Internet."

The TSA has been taking criticism in recent months for its handling of passenger privacy, including its handling of enhanced pat-downs and whole body scanners.

A spokesman for the Association of Airline Passengers Rights said his group isn't comfortable with Bluetooth tracking and that TSA has a history of saying it's keeping passenger information private, then changing its story.

The TSA told MacFarlane it posted warning signs alerting passengers that Bluetooth sensors were active.

A TSA spokesman also would not immediately answer why the program was never allowed to get off the ground but did confirm they've since scrapped the program before it came to light publicly.