Airports Can't Identify Biometrics Standard

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2002-10-11 Print this article Print

Despite post-9/11 promises, airport security is still experiencing turbulence.

It was supposed to be the salvation. The future. The obvious best choice. Experts everywhere looked to information technology after the September 2001 terrorist attacks as the key to better security for government and for businesses—particularly in high-profile locales such as airports.

A year later, it hasn't quite turned out that way.

Despite an enormous outcry, no leading-edge security technology—like real-time biometrics identification systems—has been deployed at airports to verify passengers' identities before they board planes. And that leaves many businesses—be they shopping malls or engineering firms or food suppliers—without broad experience to learn from if they're looking to step up their own security systems.

Says Richard Eastman, president of The Eastman Group, an airline-industry consultancy: "In my opinion, the political issues surrounding the use of biometric technology in U.S. airports are so large that until the government defines and funds some sort of direction, the rest of the airline industry and the civilian populace will continue to be mired in a deep abyss."

So far, the only new technology to arrive at major airports—self-service ticket kiosks—has been installed by individual airlines at their own expense. This was done to offset the incon- venience travelers endure because of longer and supposedly more comprehensive security checks that use exactly the same technology airports have been using for years.

These self-service kiosks, which allow customers to swipe either a credit card or frequent-flier card to print out boarding passes, receipts and itineraries, provide no additional security even though manufacturers such as IBM already are using biometric identification technology at airport kiosks in Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.

While security experts argue whether the ideal biometric identification technology should be fingerprints, handprints, facial-recognition scanners, iris scanners or some combination, they agree that until the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) becomes more decisive, passengers may never see the high-level security that's available right now. The TSA has struggled to clearly define its role, vacillating between law enforcement agency and advocate for transportation safety improvements.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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