TSA “proves” value of the ID checks at airports

For years now the TSA has been trying to convince the traveling public that showing an ID at the airport checkpoint is actually somehow helping to provide security to the air travel infrastructure.  They haven’t really explained how this is possible, other than claiming that they have some super master list of all the terrorists out there, except for the real terrorists because we can’t have them knowing that we know who they are.  Or something like that.  Still, the ID requirement has been revised and increased several times over the past few years to the point now that the TSA is pretty convinced that they know who is passing through the checkpoint.

Unless, of course, that person is on a holiday runaway with her daughter to Disney World.

A woman borrowed a former co-worker’s drivers license under the guise of needing it for work-related reasons and used that ID to buy tickets at the airport (paid cash) and then passed through the TSA screening at that same airport.  The ID was also used to check in at the hotel in Orlando.

Putting aside that the woman appears to be a whack job she otherwise wasn’t a risk to the air travel system.  So in that regard there isn’t really much of an issue with the fact that the TSA completely didn’t notice that the person on the ID wasn’t the same as the person standing in front of them.  But the TSA is spending billions of dollars trying to perfect their ID screening efforts, with the REAL ID fiasco, hiring extra TSOs to check IDs at airports and otherwise wasting money.  And the results are clear.  They’ve found a few fake IDs but failed at the rather basic test of matching the person in front of them to the person on the ID.  So all a terrorist would need to do is steal someone’s wallet (or buy an ID from anyone willing to sell one) and they’ve got an easy way past the security infrastructure thrown up at them.  That’s awesome, though hardly a surprise.  Of course, the TSA continues to claim that their security is working correctly because of the “layers” and the fact that this person wasn’t ever a threat is apparently enough for them to continue on that streak, but no thanks to the actual policies that they’ve implemented.

Along the lines of the ID checking is another new bit that the TSA is pursuing – the collection of birth date and gender from every passenger.  Of course, this is supposed to work in conjunction with the aforementioned ID checking bit, so there is sufficient skepticism as to its efficacy right from the get-go.  “Secure Flight,” as the program in known, is the next generation of the ID matching efforts from the TSA.  In theory it means fewer false SSSS matches for additional security screenings at the checkpoint which is a good thing.  But it also means more underemployed TSA employees conducting screenings at the gates rather than spending that money on something useful such as cargo screening.  And, thanks to the infinite wisdom of the government, it means a ridiculous implementation schedule that is inconsistent across the industry and probably will remain ineffective for some time to come.

The TSA started requiring airlines to collect the data on May 15. But the deadline for airlines to start transmitting the data to the agency for screening — and even the deadline for the airlines to start collecting the names — are far from set in concrete.

The airlines have staggered dates for compliance, depending on each carrier’s technological capabilities and on what arrangements it has worked out with the TSA. That applies not only to the initial name collection in May but also for the Aug. 15 deadline to begin collecting birthday and gender information and transmitting all of that data to the TSA for screening and verification, agency and airline officials said.

"It’s my understanding that the completion of the project will be final for all channels by end of October-beginning of November 2010," said Jim Martin, the North America product market manager for Amadeus. Martin coordinated the company’s efforts to meet the new security requirements for its GDS clients.

In other words, the TSA wants the airlines to start collecting data that they cannot yet process or otherwise deal with.  But the airlines must endure the costs today of implementing these systems that no one knows if the TSA will ever be able to use and which almost certainly does not actually help in the security arena.  Knowing who is traveling is relatively inconsequential, and despite their claims to the contrary the TSA doesn’t really have a way to process the information anyways. 

That’s our tax dollars AND the passenger security fees – costs that the government wants to significantly increase – at work.  Or at least sitting around the airport talking to their friends and not really doing anything useful.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.