The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its electronic boarding pass pilot program. This system will make it easier for TSA to be able to gather and track individual travel data. The program began in Houston in December 2007 and added more airports in April. Here’s how the program works, according to TSA:
The electronic boarding pass contains a two-dimensional (2-D) barcode encrypted with specific passenger information, such as the traveler’s name and flight information.
At the checkpoint, passengers present their cell phones or PDA to a TSA travel document checking officer. The officer will scan the encrypted barcode using a handheld device to verify its authenticity. Passengers will still be required to show photo identification so officers can validate that the name on the boarding pass matches the name on the ID.
In fact, why doesn’t TSA take this to the next step? If the agency already knows who has a boarding pass from data sent by the airlines (to verify the pass’s authenticity), then why doesn’t TSA just tell travelers to use our ID cards as our boarding passes? “Save a tree — show your ID.”
TSA is already planning on using the boarding pass scanners nationwide to collect data. “Once the hand-held scanners are deployed nationwide, TSA will also use this technology to track wait times using standardized automated data collected at checkpoints. This development is expected to happen within about a year,” says TSA.
What “standardized automated data” will be collected? And what is to stop the agency from collecting all data from all individual travelers and keeping track of it in massive database? After all, it has only been a couple months since the last time TSA had to admit it was wrongly collecting individual travel data. In August, USA Today reported, “Transportation Security Administration has collected records on thousands of passengers who went to airport checkpoints without identification, adding them to a database of people who violated security laws or were questioned for suspicious behavior.”
After the newspaper asked TSA to comment, TSA Chief Kip Hawley “called the newspaper to say the agency is changing its policy effective today and will stop keeping records of people who don’t have ID if a screener can determine their identity. Hawley said he had been considering the change for a month. The names of people who did not have identification will soon be expunged, he said.”
The electronic boarding pass pilot program is now operating at: Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Logan International Airport (BOS), Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), San Antonio International Airport (SAT), Indianapolis International Airport (IND) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in New York.