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TSA buys machines to check IDs and airline boarding passes

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
October 3, 2011 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
The Transportation Security Administration will begin testing machines to assist travel document checkers early next year.
The Transportation Security Administration will begin testing machines to assist travel document checkers early next year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The TSA will test machines that match a boarding pass with the passenger's ID
  • The TSA has not disclosed which airport will get the test machines
  • The machines will be tested starting early in 2012
  • The machines could improve security and traffic flow in airports

Washington (CNN) -- In a move that could improve security and keep airport lines moving, the Transportation Security Administration early next year will begin testing machines that match a traveler's boarding pass with his or her government-issued ID, while verifying that both documents are authentic.

The machines will assist the TSA "travel document checkers," who now conduct checks assisted only by ultraviolet flashlights and magnifying loupes.

In 2006, an Indiana University doctoral student created a website allowing people to create fake boarding passes to demonstrate how a known terrorist on the "No Fly" list could use a fake boarding pass to get past a checkpoint. Once on the other side, the terrorist could use a real boarding pass acquired under an alias to board a plane.

And in June, a Nigerian man was arrested after he flew across the country allegedly with a false boarding pass. Authorities said they found several other phony boarding passes in his luggage.

The new technology would authenticate government-issued IDs by comparing written information on the card with information encoded in the ID's bar codes, magnetic strip or computer chip. It would also match the ID to the boarding pass.

The system will alert screeners if either document does not pass validation. If the issue is easily rectifiable, such as misspelling of the passenger's name, the TSA may allow the person to proceed. If not immediately resolved, the passenger will be directed to a TSA supervisor.

"This technology will help facilitate risk-based security, while making the process more effective and efficient," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said.

The TSA has awarded contracts of $79 million each to three companies: BAE Systems Information Solutions, NCR Government Systems and Trans Digital Technologies, LLC. Each company will provide 10 machines for testing at U.S. airports. The TSA has not disclosed which airports will get the machines.

In August, the TSA's chief privacy officer issued a report saying the machines have minimal privacy implications because only a limited amount of personal information is collected by the machines and because this information "is deleted after use."

A TSA spokeswoman said earlier versions of the technology were tested at two Washington-area airports in 2009.

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