ID cards prepare for takeoff

Airports broaden credentialing efforts asCongress and TSA look at security breaches

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

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    "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."

    Alice Lipowicz ( is a
    staff writer at Washington Technology.

    About the Author

    Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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