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[FYI] (Fwd) ID Cards for `Trusted Travelers' Run Into Some Thorny Questions
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- Date: Tue, 9 Apr 2002 20:48:42 +0200
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Date sent: Tue, 9 Apr 2002 12:44:39 -0400
To: Digital Bearer Settlement List <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <email@example.com>
Subject: ID Cards for `Trusted Travelers' Run Into Some Thorny Questions
April 9, 2002
ID Cards for `Trusted Travelers' Run Into Some Thorny Questions
By MATTHEW L. WALD
ASHINGTON, April 8 - The idea seemed simple: figure out who the good
guys are, give them easy-to-recognize and hard-to-counterfeit ID cards
and let them breeze past airport security.
Everybody would win, advocates say. Holders of the "trusted traveler"
cards would save time. Screeners would have fewer bodies to inspect -
there were 1.8 billion in 2000, according to the Transportation
Department - and could concentrate on identifying potential
terrorists. And passengers would feel safer.
There is only one problem: It is proving extraordinarily difficult to
figure out who would qualify for a card that would work as advertised.
"What makes a trusted traveler?" asked Richard P. Eastman, who writes
software for airlines and travel agencies. "The guy who travels all
the time; who travels on business; who has a reason to travel. Does
that mean the terrorist can't penetrate that group? Of course he can."
For weeks the new Transportation Security Administration has focused
on more pressing problems, like taking over the screening points, and
officials have equivocated on whether such a card is feasible. Now,
though, with the summer travel season approaching, lines will grow
longer if the normal pattern holds and millions of vacationers flood
the airports. That will take frequent fliers' frustration back up to
the boiling point. Pressures on politicians to do something are
rising, and some experts say the only feasible solution will be some
sort of travel card.
Probably the biggest obstacle to creating the airport equivalent of an
E-Z Pass is doubt about its effectiveness. After all, terrorists can
be adept at blending into the society they plan to attack, so who can
guarantee they won't fool the gatekeepers? "The guys who did this
exercise on Sept. 11 spent the better part of four years becoming
nondescript," Mr. Eastman pointed out.
The federal government seems to be of two minds. Tom Ridge, director
of homeland security, said the proposed cards would help reduce
bottlenecks. And Norman Y. Mineta, the secretary of transportation,
said his department was open to some type of trusted-traveler ID card
Yet John Magaw, the under secretary of transportation who is the head
of the new Transportation Security Administration, worries that the
card might not be smart enough to thwart hijackers."Terrorists are not
in any hurry," he said. "For them, the soup of revenge is best served
Even if a risk-free card could be devised, civil libertarians would
probably fight it. The American Civil Liberties Union has ridiculed
the trusted-traveler concept as a "get out of security free" card.
These critics argue that it would be impossible to safeguard the
confidential information travelers would have to divulge about
themselves. And they contend that a smart card would set a dangerous
"Quickly enough, policy makers are going to say, `If this works, let's
require everyone to go through background checks before they get on a
plane,' " said Barry S. Steinhardt, director of the A.C.L.U.'s program
on science and technology.
The card would be sophisticated but not technically difficult to
produce. At a minimum, experts say, a card should be able to store a
fingerprint or a retina scan and verify to a computer that the
holder's finger or eye matched. The computer should be able to check
that the card had not been revoked. So far, the government has not
even been able to devise a card for flight attendants, pilots or
Secret Service agents.
Frequent travelers, however, create a commercial imperative. Though
they are mostly unorganized, they are voting with their feet and
abandoning air travel in droves to avoid the long lines. In a recent
survey, fully 60 percent said they had cut back on their flying purely
to avoid airport problems.
Take Steven M. Fetter of Rumson, N.J. He runs his own energy
consulting firm, Regulation UnFettered, and makes frequent flights out
of Newark International Airport to destinations all over the United
States and Europe. Before starting his business, Mr. Fetter, 50, held
a variety of jobs with states and the federal government, including a
stint as a senior official in the Labor Department.
He is an unlikely terrorist, but he gets the same scrutiny as
everybody else at security booths, and has the horror stories to show
for it. To beat a three-hour delay he heard about at the New Orleans
airport in October, for example, he got to the airport two and a half
hours early, zipped through the lines in 20 minutes and had to kill
more than two hours.
Mr. Fetter says he would happily give all kinds of information about
himself in return for a traveler's card that could spare him such
frustrations. "Rather than search people like myself, they should
focus on people who want to go nowhere near this card idea," he said.
Mr. Fetter, who is a platinum-class traveler on Continental Airlines
(news/quote), is frightening for the airlines because he is typical.
The dissatisfaction of business travelers is creating alarm at
airlines. The industry is awash in red ink, with losses expected to
approach $4 billion this year. Yet just a few hundred thousand road
warriors account for more than half their revenues. Winning them back
is the key to future profitability.
But the process of setting security rules has changed. When the
Federal Aviation Administration was in charge, the airlines had a
sympathetic ear when they raised commercial concerns. Now security is
in the hands of a separate division of the Transportation Department.
"This is the first test, really, for a new agency," said Senator Ron
Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, who is not known as a friend of the
airlines. Congress set up the Transportation Security Administration
to be more independent of the industries it regulates, he said.
After Sept. 11, relatively few politicians have been willing to
second-guess the agency. Representative John A. Culbertson, Republican
of Texas, came out strongly for a trusted-traveler card but could find
only 13 colleagues to sign a letter to Mr. Magaw in January calling
Some consumer advocates are skeptical the card will work. "If they
start letting some people through security, it blows the whole
security program," said Kathy Lynch, the project manager at the
Aviation Consumer Action Project, a group founded by Ralph Nader in
1971. "Terrorists can get ID's of any sort."
Ms. Lynch predicted lines would become shorter as new technology and
workers are put in place, and the Transportation Department is already
committed to a goal of waits of no longer than 10 minutes.
But proponents say there must be an easier way than screening people
who the government knows are making routine trips.
"If you start having a behavior pattern that is outside the norm for
you, and inconsistent with your job, then even as a trusted traveler
you bear further looking," said Mr. Eastman, the airline software
Something has to happen, the airlines say. "We can't and won't lose
focus on security," said Leo F. Mullin, chairman of Delta Air Lines
(news/quote), in a recent speech here. "But we must simultaneously
reduce the hassle factor. It's possible and necessary to do both."
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/> 44
Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA "... however it may deserve
respect for its usefulness and antiquity, [predicting the end of the
world] has not been found agreeable to experience." -- Edward Gibbon,
'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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