For those of you who are not up on your airport security technology, Registered Traveler or "fast pass" is a catchall phrase for a group of security protocols that will allow people who submit to background checks a faster trip through airport security. They have been testing the concept at Orlando International Airport since July 2005 and more than 25,000 people have signed up.
As designed, participants pay a fee and allow the government (through their agencies and vendors) to check your background. (The Clear Program being used in Orlando was developed by Verified Identity Pass, Inc.) You then have your fingerprint, retinal scan or other biometric identifier to help speed you through a special "pre-approved" security checkpoint.
Proponents of the service are quick to point out that you still must go through regular airport security; you just get to do it on a shorter line. Carter Morris, a spokesman for the American Association of Airport Executives, is quoted in the L.A. Times article saying, "Checking for bad people instead of just bad things has become more of a priority." It may be a priority, but this program will do nothing to help his cause.
Opponents of the service, like American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Timothy Sparapani, say, "Registered Traveler would force Americans to choose between preserving their most private and personal information and speeding through airport security ... This isn't a choice any traveler should be forced to make." That may be true, but we are all concerned about our safety.
Sadly, none of this makes any sense at all. I rack up about 500,000 frequent flyer miles each year, so I can speak firsthand about the relative safety to inconvenience ratio at most of America's major airports. Last week, flying back to New York from L.A., I was stopped while boarding the plane for a random bag check. They opened up my carry-on and my suitcase and literally aired my dirty laundry. It was my fourth security check that day: first while getting my boarding pass, then to enter the security area, then the metal detector and x-ray machine and finally a "random" bag check. Wow, did I feel safe. (NOT!)
But you know what would have made me feel unsafe? Knowing that someone who could supply a fingerprint, retinal scan or other biometric identification could get on the plane, with the rank and file TSA workers thinking that this person was somehow pre-approved to be more safe than anyone else. This is a very bad idea.
No matter how securely you create an ID card, or biometric identifier, the computer program has to check it against a database. Databases can be hacked. Even the best, most secure ones in the world are hacked regularly. Unless you are truly working in the data security business, you really only hear about the identity theft that makes the news. If you read the trades or work inside, dealing with hackers is just another day at the office.
So, how would you feel if you knew that your safety was in the hands of a motivated teenager with exceptional computer skills? Registered Traveler is about as secure as someone asking to see your driver's license or a photo ID when you enter a commercial building in New York City. It's worthless. Is it possible for a terrorist to possess a photo ID? What does the document tell you? Humm... yes, that's a picture of you. A retinal scan attached to a hacked record in a database is identically useless.
Some people believe that we should not give up any of our freedoms in the name of security. Other, more moderate, people would be willing to give a little for safety's sake. And, of course, there are those who would happily sign away the entire Bill of Rights to live in a "secure" society. No matter which group you closely relate to, you will not find any benefit (except line cutting) in the Registered Traveler program. It is a terrible attempt to exploit our fears for pure commercial gain. Do we think any terrorists who would not pass a background check will apply? The entire concept is truly insulting... see you on line.