- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Stewart Mann believes he has a cure for terminal illness the sickness that sets in among passengers confronted by long lines at crowded airports.Electronic tickets are not the solution. He thinks biometrics is the answer. Biometrics is a computer technology that identifies people based on information like fingerprints, facial features, or the pattern of an iris or retina.
"E-tickets are like a steam engine compared to what we have," said Mr. Mann, a 49-year-old North Carolina native.
Mr. Mann, the founder and chief executive of McLean-based EyeTicket Corp., and other advocates of biometrics are optimistic that the technology is on the verge of becoming a common method to improve security and get passengers through domestic airports more quickly.
As the number of airline passengers increases each year, airlines are under pressure to improve customer service. Nearly 670 million people will fly this year and an estimated 1 billion people will fly annually within 10 years, according to estimates by the Federal Aviation Administration.
But progress toward getting biometric devices into airports has been slow. Some industries are adopting biometrics. Bank United Corp. introduced automatic teller machines in May 1999 at three Texas grocery stores that can identify a customer by scanning his iris.

First, the INS

At the heart of it, that's what biometric tests do identify people. Because physical characteristics like the iris, retina and fingerprint are unique from person to person, biometrics is better than any personal identification number, Mr. Mann said.
Numbers can be stolen. Fingerprints or an iris are unique to each person.
Still, little biometric equipment has been installed in airports since 1994, when the Immigration and Natur-alization Service began INSPASS. That program relies on a biometric test called hand geometry it "reads" the shape and mass of a person's hand to identify international travelers who enroll in it and speed them through six U.S. airports, including Washington Dulles International Airport.
In the United States, private industry has been working hard to convince airlines and airports to use biometrics since INSPASS began, and they have made little progress until now.
Only now are biometrics earning endorsements from pilots, airport officials and passengers.
"I think there's a general recognition of the absolute necessity of this," said Richard Norton, executive director of the International Biometric Industry Association.
Biometrics companies think a handful of successful pilot projects to show off their machines are helping them trumpet the benefits of the seemingly futuristic technology.
"The biometrics industry has been justifiably accused of predicting its own success too soon in the past, but this is the year for biometrics," Mr. Norton said.
Biometric companies sold just 8,500 devices in 1996, according to the IBIA, and this year they will sell an estimated 250,000 devices that identify people based on physical characteristics.

Charlotte test

One of the most visible tests of biometric equipment has taken place since May at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and includes pilots and crew members of US Airways.
EyeTicket has installed a biometric device there called Eyepass.
EyeTicket is a 3-year-old company with a license to market its iris-scan technology in the aviation industry. It has that license from New Jersey-based IriScan Inc., which has patented the original idea for iris scanning and has licensed the technology to a handful of companies in separate industries.
When US Airways personnel want to board their planes at Charlotte-Douglas, they step up to a toaster-sized video recorder equipped with an auto-focus lens to have their iris scanned.
When people first enroll, a scanner reads an iris' 266 unique characteristics and creates an image that is converted into a 512-byte code.
Subsequent scans are matched against that digital code, and identification takes about three seconds. Glasses and con-tact lenses don't interfere with a scanner's ability to "read" an iris.
After about the first year of life, the iris doesn't change significantly. No two irises are alike, even among twins, Mr. Mann said, making an iris scan highly accurate. About 5,000 work-ers at Charlotte-Douglas have en-rolled in Eyepass.
A second Eyepass device in Charlotte-Douglas is used by airport workers seeking access to the airport's tarmac.
Rockville-based Anadac also has developed a biometric test that workers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport must pass before they are given access to the tarmac. Anadac's biometric device relies not on iris scan, but on a fingerprint scan and limits access to cargo areas so bags not belonging to passengers are less likely to be loaded onto planes.
So far, the Charlotte-Douglas test has received praise from US Airways pilots because it prevents them from having to wait in the same long lines at security checkpoints passengers must wait in.
"We are interested in evaluating how this system might be used as a universal access system," said Mark Thorpe, spokesman for the 58,000-member Air Line Pilots Association.

No relief for passengers

But neither the O'Hare biometric device nor the Charlotte-Douglas biometric machine is intended to reduce congestion at airports caused by the increasing number of airline passengers.
Mr. Mann said that once a reservation is taken, biometrics can automate any subsequent service, from changing a reservation, to checking in, to getting a boarding pass or even checking baggage.
Airlines could attach biometric data to a person's name and a frequent-flier number they assign to those enrolling in biometric programs.
"We don't need Social Security numbers, or your telephone number or your dog's name," Mr. Mann said.
EyeTicket will begin a pilot project later this year of its biometric test for passengers, but it hasn't said which U.S. airport will participate in the pilot project.
The potential for automating services that now require airline and airport employees has air travel industry groups interested.
"We sell people a ticket only to take them away. We give people boarding passes only to take them away. We can use technology to get around that," said Thomas Windmuller, director of corporate projects at the International Air Transport Association, a group representing 270 major international airlines in Geneva.
The International Air Transport Association endorsed the investigation of biometrics for use by airlines when it formed the Simplified Passenger Travel Interest Group in February. Technology companies sit on the newly formed group along with six airports and nine airlines.
Airlines and airports are as eager as passengers to find ways to speed people through airport terminals because it means better customer service, Mr. Windmuller said.
Biometrics advocates say if fewer employees are needed to check in passengers, they can move on to other jobs to ensure that a plane departs on time.
"Airlines are trying to get better at customer service, so if they can find a way to do that that's not too costly, I think they will," Mr. Windmuller said.
Airports are interested because improving customer service so passengers leave airports more quickly could result in smaller lines. That could mean a reduced need for costly airport expansions.
"Are you just going to keep making Dulles even bigger? How much bigger can you make it?" Mr. Norton asked.
Dulles recently announced a $3.4 billion expansion plan that includes a fourth runway, a new concourse with 44 gates, thousands of new parking spaces and replacement of the unique mobile lounges with a subway and moving sidewalks connecting the terminal to the concourses.

A matter of trust

But making biometric tests for passengers standard in airports will require more than convincing airlines and airports that the technology is better than having employees deal with each passenger.
It also will require convincing passengers that biometrics isn't an invasion of privacy, biometric advocates say.
The main concern of privacy groups is how airlines would use iris scans, fingerprint scans or other physical traits collected from passengers.
Biometrics can be useful because it is an efficient way to positively identify a person, said David Sobel, general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington nonprofit group.
"But there's a bad side. It's completely unregulated and there are no laws governing how biometric information can be used or when it can be used," Mr. Sobel said.
Biometric companies respond by saying that they don't store images of either an iris or a fingerprint. Instead, they use the original images they scan to create a representation either a digital code, in the case of an iris, or a piece of data derived from a pattern, as in the case of a fingerprint.
"We've had a difficult time convincing Congress and others that fingerprint technology and iris scans are not an invasion of privacy. The advocacy community thinks we store fingerprints, but we store templates, or representations of fingerprints, and unauthorized access to the database of fingerprint templates is almost impossible," said Dick Thaxton, a consultant at Anadac.
Despite that, biometric companies still have to win the confidence of consumers, Mr. Windmuller said.
"We have to deal with the privacy of consumers. If we don't, we will fail. We need to adopt programs that are sensitive to the concerns of consumers," he said.
They also have to make biometric tests both easy to use and unintimidating, advocates say. Consumers don't like retina scans because they view them as intrusive, EyeTicket Senior Vice President Evan R. Smith said. Retina scans require people to stare into an infrared light. Blood vessels for biometric identification are located along the neural retina, the outermost of the retina's four cell layers.
"Retina scan is a dead technology," Mr. Smith said.
Consumers seemed to embrace EyeTicket's iris-scan technology when the company did a weeklong trial of its prototype of a device for passengers in July at Charlotte-Douglas, Mr. Mann said.
That may be a signal that it's time to make changes in air travel so passengers aren't afflicted with terminal illness when they enter an airport.
"This is a change people are ready for," Mr. Mann said.

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