NEWS

TSA Announces New ID Scanners, Expert Questions Past Practices

By Carlton Purvis

TSA announced on Tuesday the start of a pilot program for technology to catch counterfeit ID cards. The Credential Authentication Technology/Boarding Pass Scanning System (CAT/BPSS) was put in use at Washington Dulles International Airport and is scheduled for placement at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico in the coming weeks.

Up until now, security features on ID cards were checked by visual inspection. TSA officers had to manually verify that the name on a boarding pass matched a traveler’s ID. In September, TSA purchased 30 CAT/BPSS systems.

Ninety percent of documents used for air travel are driver’s licenses, according to DHS. And most contain security features like holograms, laser engraved signatures, magnetic stripes, laser perforation, and ghost portraits (the REAL ID Act requires all driver's licenses to have certain security features by January 15, 2013). CAT/BPSS scans a person’s boarding pass and ID and verifies that the information matches while analyzing security features to determine if they are fake or altered.

Kiersten Todt Coon, CEO of Liberty Group Ventures LLC, told MSNBC that the move to automated scanners could be beneficial for both screeners and passengers. Agents will be freed up to focus on things that look anomalous when people go through security, she said. Coon also said that using machines minimizes room for error.

For passengers, Coon said, the affect is more psychological. “When all the TSA agent is doing is scanning the document, there’s no appearance that they’re making a subjective decision in terms of additional screening. That will mitigate some of that disgruntled passenger feeling,” she told MSNBC.com.

The new technology has bloggers writing “The TSA Won't Be Fooled by Your Fake ID Again.” And TSA’s Blogger Bob called it “a seriously cool piece of technology that enhances security and increases efficiency.” But not everyone is so keen (a majority of the comments on TSA's blog about CAT/BPSS are critical)--including Steve Williams, CEO of Intellicheck Mobilisa (IC Mobil), an access control and ID verification company and creator of Defense ID, a system used by the Department of Defense to secure military bases.

Williams feels the current visual inspections comprised of shining a light on an ID card is flawed as a security procedure adn that the new system isn't without its limitations.

“[CAT/BPSS] is literally just reading the two documents and saying ‘Yep, the two names are the same. They’re good to go.’ The problem is, for example, my boarding pass never matches my driver’s license because my name is too long with my middle name spelled out to fit on a boarding pass,” he said by phone on Wednesday.

Williams said both the current system of examining IDs under special lights and CAT/BPSS give travelers a false sense of security. “Kids in college figured fake IDs out years ago,” he said. “Terrorists do the same thing to get access to things they shouldn’t have access to.”

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