Friday, 7 May 2004

TSA announces more airport surveillance, biometric/RFID tests

The USA Transportation Security Administration has announced plans to test a variety of new surveillance systems and devices — including automated video face recognition, digital fingerprint scanning, and remotely-readable RFID chips — to monitor and control movements of workers at eight airports:

  1. Newark Liberty International Airport, NJ (EWR)
  2. Miami International Airport, FL (MIA)
  3. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, MN (MSP)
  4. Tampa International Airport, FL (TPA)
  5. T. F. Green [Providence] Airport, RI (PVD)
  6. Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, GA (SAV)
  7. Southwest Florida [Ft. Meyers] International Airport, FL (RSW)
  8. Boise Air Terminal/Gowen Field Airport, ID (BOI)

No starting date or duration for the tests was announced.

These tests should be of concern not just to airport workers and their trade and industrial unions, but also to air travellers and the general public.

The rationale for these impositions, presumably, is that requirements for ID cards and credentials are a “security” measure which, in the airport context, will somehow protect us against terrorists. But as Privacy International concludes in a new report, Mistaken Identity; Exploring the Relationship Between National Identity Cards & the Prevention of Terrorism:

While a link between identity cards and anti-terrorism is frequently suggested, the connection appears to be largely intuitive…. The detailed analysis of information in the public domain in this study has produced no evidence to establish a connection between identity cards and successful anti-terrorism measures. Terrorists have traditionally moved across borders using tourist visas (such as those who were involved in the US terrorist attacks), or they are domicile and are equipped with legitimate identification cards (such as those who carried out the Madrid bombings)…. The claim that a card can combat terrorism remains the most emotive and yet least substantiated justification…. There is no known correlation between the extent of terrorism and the presence of an identity system.

For more on mandatory ID cards, credentials, and their relationship to freddom of movement and travel, see Michael Froomkin’s recent conference presentation on ID Cards; Or, Thoughts On What’s at Stake in the Hiibel Case and his article in progress, The Uneasy Case for National ID Cards . (Prof. Froomkin will also be raising these issues at next Thursday’s seminar at Harvard with myself and others on international ID and human rights.)

The reality is that — like CAPPS-II and US-VISIT — these airport movement control and monitoring programs will have great utility for both government and commerical surveillance, but little if any real security value. It’s critical, therefor, that they be debated and evaluated as what they are: surveillance measures.

The fundamental goal of these schemes is the ability to know, at all times, the identity and location of each person in an airport or other transportation facility, or in an airplane or other vehicle. The logs generated by that surveillance are much more likely to be used in unrelated investigations and inquiries, after the fact, as part of permanent files recording our movements, than as part of any program that will actually prevent future terrorism.

The announcement of these new tests didn’t mention the parallel tests, the latest round of which began last month, of the RFID/biometric Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).

Like the TWIC program, these tests will initially be used only to monitor and control the movements of airport workers, not passengers. But as I’ve reported previously, the government’s own first concept of the TWIC program was that it, “focus … on workers in the transportation system, while achieving sufficient flexibility to accommodate future needs to address identification of users of the transportation system.”

These new tests are likely to have been designed with the same long-term intention to monitor and control the movements of everyone passing through airports. That expansion from airport workers to airline passengers will most likely occur through an (initially “voluntary” but eventually mandotory, or de facto mandatory) registered traveller / trusted traveller card .

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 7 May 2004, 10:46 (10:46 AM)
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