ID cards prepare for takeoff

By Alice Lipowicz

Also in this report
Airport IDs may sprout wings

Efforts are still in the early stages, but several recent developments indicate renewed interest in a biometric identification card for airport employees.

On April 3, the American Association of Airport Executives announced a consortium to create a biometric airport security credential. The group wants the new credential to be locally controlled by airports, apply existing resources, use an open architecture and allow for a phased implementation.
TSA will begin testing solutions for airport employee screening at seven airports May 1. The tests will include biometric identification at Boston Logan and Denver international airports, TSA officials said.
TSA is working with the Air Line Pilots Association to conduct demonstrations of the pilots’ proposed CrewPass identification solution, which includes a database and photo ID check. The pilots picketed in March at Washington’s Reagan National Airport to push for a separate ID card and screening procedure. The card is likely to include fingerprint or iris biometrics at a later stage, a TSA spokesman said.
TSA is continuing work on its Aviation Credential Interoperable Solution program to develop an interoperable identification card that could be used at airports nationwide.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority announced last year that it had deployed one of the world’s first airport biometric identification programs. The Restricted Area Identity Card covers 100,000 employees at Canada’s 29 largest airports. Implementation has cost $25 million thus far, a spokeswoman said.

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In November, police arrested 23 airport workers who used fake identification cards to enter secure areas at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. An airport contractor had routinely been issuing its employees old and deactivated ID badges to avoid security checks.

The fraud was simple but effective. According to an affidavit, workers were told to sort through deactivated identification cards to select those with photographs that most closely resembled them.

Security breaches such as this are spurring Congress, airports and the Transportation Security Administration to move more quickly toward issuing biometric identification cards to an estimated 3 million airport employees nationwide, officials and industry experts say.

“The O’Hare incident caught the attention of TSA and of Congress,” said Walter Hamilton, chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association. “If they had biometrics, they would not have been able to do that at O’Hare.”

Airports have issued employee badges for many years. Now the focus is shifting toward use of biometrics — primarily fingerprints and iris recognition — in such credentials. Even so, it is not clear how quickly those technologies will be deployed, how they will be paid for and whether the federal government will require them. Estimates for 3 million cards range into the hundreds of millions of dollars, sources say.

Transportation worker identification has been a cornerstone of homeland security for several years. The Homeland Security Department began implementing last year the Transportation Worker Identification Credential for 750,000 port workers. Lockheed Martin Corp. won the $70 million contract to produce a smart card with a chip containing a fingerprint template and a digital photograph. It is modeled on Federal Information Processing Standard 201.

Airport employees are likely to be one of the next large groups to undergo biometric identification checks.

Congress is pushing for 100 percent airport employee screening, which typically includes an X-ray for weapons and might also incorporate biometric identification and a check for suspicious behavior.

In January, Congress included a provision in the Omnibus Appropriations Act to authorize 90-day tests of airport screening to be conducted by TSA starting in May. TSA will report on the tests in September.

Biometric identification cards will be part of the testing at Denver International and Boston Logan International airports, TSA spokesman Chris White said, but he added that TSA has not yet decided whether biometric identification should be deployed by airports nationwide.

“For employee screening, we are looking at the entire universe,” White said. “Part of that is biometric, part of it is screening, part is at a checkpoint, part is remote. It is premature for us to say what the end state might be.”

Meanwhile, an airport consortium has begun developing a biometric solution on its own.

“This is an airport-driven initiative,” said Carter Morris, senior vice president of security policy at the American Association of Airport Executives. “We are looking to start moving it forward.”

Colleen Chamberlain, vice president of transportation security policy at the association, said the goal is to stay a step or two in front of Congress and TSA so the airports help shape a biometric ID card program on their own, with or without a mandate.

“We don’t want a top-down solution from the TSA but rather something that allows for local control,” Chamberlain said. “We want to do this sooner rather than later.”

Eventually, the airports expect to adopt a solution compliant with FIPS-201, she said, but it might have to be adapted somewhat for use outdoors under harsh winter conditions.

“Do you ask a worker to take off a winter glove to use the fingerprint scanner outdoors?” Chamberlain asked. The answer: probably not.

The airport coalition also wants to develop a concept of operations that builds on existing solutions, develop a reasonable timeline for implementation, and identify costs and sources of financing for the new ID cards, she said. Participating airports include Atlanta; Boston; Denver; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Minneapolis; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington Dulles.

The airports also are working with TSA on its interoperability project so the identification cards can be used at more than one airport. Presumably, they would follow TWIC and FIPS-201 interoperability models.

Airports are already implementing biometric identification cards on their own. In a recent survey of 56 airports, 40 percent said they were using biometrics for identification in some fashion, Chamberlain said. Most were using fingerprints or iris recognition, and a few were trying hand geometry or facial recognition. Meanwhile, airline pilots also are entering the fray. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) held demonstrations in March to prod TSA into testing a separate ID check procedure for pilots. The proposed procedure, called CrewPass, is described in a white paper released last year.

Pilots and flight crews go through physical screenings along with passengers. The pilots’ group said it would prefer a separate screening in which the pilot would display photo identification to a TSA screener, who would then check the card against a database of photographs and credentials.

“Pilots are tired of being ‘strip searched,’” said Peter Janhunen, an ALPA spokesman. “It is degrading, demoralizing and disrespectful, and it treats them like a terrorist threat.”

TSA has approved CrewPass for testing. The airport ID cards will operate differently from TWIC, Hamilton said. For one thing, the credentials will be issued by the airports rather than through a central authority. For another, they are likely to be swiped at thousands of access doors and gates rather than a handful of manned gates as is the case at seaports.

If TSA approves a general biometric credential for airport employees, it likely would apply to 2 million to 3 million employees, Hamilton said. Cost estimates are expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and it is not immediately clear who will pay.

“There is a lack of clarity on the funding,” said Raj Nanavati, a partner at the International Biometrics Group consulting firm. “Funding will be the key.”

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