Monday, 26 September 2005

Update on traveller registration programs

Just as the deployment of the Secure Flight airline passenger surveillance and screening program continues to be described as a “test” to evade Congressional restrictions on its deployment on other than a test basis , so a scheme to treat as second-class travellers those airline passengers who don’t “voluntarily” register themselves with a designated private company is moving forward as a “pilot program”.

The latest “registered traveler” or “known traveler” scheme has been in operation since 19 July 2005 at Orlando International Airport (IATA code “MCO”) under the Orwellianly benign brand name (since when did surveillance have a brand name anyway?) of Clear .

This program has been outsourced by the TSA to Verified Identity Pass, Inc. , the latest brainchild of Steven Brill. Brill is perhaps best known as the founder and CEO of the Court TV cable television channel. Since 11 September 2001, he has devoted himself to evangelism for “screening” of people, places, and things in the name of “security”. (Shades of Howard Hughes’ paranoia?)

“Today, Clear is available at the Orlando International Airport and will soon be a part of a nationwide network of key airports around the country. In the future, the Clear Card could also allow access to expedited security at other public places.”

A Privacy Impact Assessment by the TSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Officers was published 20 June 2005, and amended last week, two months after the fact, to more accurately (supposedly — I don’t have enough information to judge) describe how the program has been operating.

Pilot program participants “voluntarily” (in exchange for the possibility of shorter, quicker lines at the metal detectors and baggage-search counters, if they are approved by the TSA) have their fingerprints and iris scans recorded, “consent” to background and immigration status checks, and pay Brill’s company US$80 a year to join his “not presumed to be quite as deserving of warrantless, suspicionless search and seizure as non-members” club.

The best things one can say about the Orlando program are (1) that it uses a chip that can only be read when the card is in contact with a reader, rather than a secretly and remotely readable RFID chip, and (2) that it is being operated more or less independently (apparently) form the airlines and their reservation data infrastructure. Both of those are major departures from the (also Orwellianly named) Simplifying Passenger Travel campaign by airlines, airports, and reservation systems to integrate so-called “security” and screening measures with industry business process automation, through multi-function RFID cards.

I take the departure from international airline industry goals, and industry desire to profit from measures imposed in the name of security, as a significant victory for privacy sentiment in the USA, and a sign of the public’s recognition of their privacy interest in travel records.

Looked at another way, it’s a sign of the disinterest of USA government agencies or businesses in international standards.

Brill’s company, of course, will profit from selling protection from the men and women with the wands, the rubber gloves, and the power to rummage through our hand bags. The fact that people are willing to pay $80 a year for even the possibility of a reduced risk of being subject to their more intrusive searches speaks volumes about the degree to which the TSA’s minions are feared and resented.

Other profiteers from this protection money are the travel agents who will get a cut (amount not disclosed) for promoting this “benefit” to their clients. In today’s issue of Travel Weekly (available online only to subscribers), Dennis Shaal reports that the Cendant Corp. , which owns both and the Galileo/Apollo computerized reservation system as well as a massive array of franchise brands and customer data aggregation systems, has signed an exclusive deal with Verified Identity Pass, Inc. to market the “Clear” known-traveler cards to and other Cendant business travel customers. A separate partnership to market the program to leisure travellers is in the works, Schaal reports, and “The idea seems to be on a fast-track.”

[Addendum, 28 September 2005: There’s more on the registered traveler pilot programs in the Wall Street Journal today, confirming that the TSA intends to expand the program on the Orlando model and noting the desire of airport authorities to control the traveller registration system, rather than having it operated independently. What the Journal doesn’t mention is the reason that airlines and airports want control of these programs, which is their desire to have access to the same “security” credentials for their own use in passenger processing in place of separate cards or credentials for payment, tickets, luggage checks, boarding passes, frequent flyer credentials, etc. — with obvious privacy implications for aggregation and integration of personal travel histories.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 26 September 2005, 20:50 ( 8:50 PM)

I'm not sure how many people are paying $80, versus how many are having their employer pay, or paying ($80 less a tax write-off). In no way does that make it ok, or lessen the security problem of being able to pay $80 and see (for sure) if you're on the list. That's cheaper than a few flights.

Posted by: Adam S, 27 September 2005, 07:43 ( 7:43 AM)
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