- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Federal Aviation Administration employees in the Washington area will be among the first to use electronic identification cards next month in what could be a step toward "trusted-traveler" cards the government is considering for some airline passengers.
In addition to the names and security clearances of the employees, the cards eventually will be encoded with biometric information that identifies unique characteristics of each cardholder's anatomy, such as fingerprints and shapes of irises.
FAA officials say a new technology they developed should avoid any privacy concerns for cardholders, although others are not so convinced.
The Transportation Security Administration and Office of Homeland Security are considering use of similar cards for the airline industry and other government employees. Passengers who can qualify by passing a security clearance could use the cards to bypass extensive searches at airport checkpoints.
However, civil rights advocates say the cards particularly the biometric information would represent an invasion of privacy for anyone other than government employees. They also warn that the FAA's electronic identification cards could be an early stage in "function creep," leading first to trusted-traveler cards and eventually to national identification cards.
"With the trusted-traveler ID, it has a lot of surface appeal," said Katy Corrigan, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "But overall, you get a false sense of security for a high price to privacy."
Even John Magaw, head of the TSA, has expressed reservations about the cards. He said "sleeper" agents of terrorist organizations could obtain them and use them to avoid security procedures that might otherwise lead to their arrests.
TSA officials said they will make a decision about trusted-traveler cards independently of any FAA decision.
"Because the FAA is doing a biometric identification card does not necessarily mean that the TSA is going to go to a trusted-traveler card," said Deirdre O'Sullivan, TSA spokeswoman.
About 23,000 FAA employees in Washington, New York and Boston will be required to swipe the cards through electronic scanners to gain access to secure areas at their regular job sites.
"The use of the card will be for those federal employees and full-time contractors that require unescorted access throughout [the Department of Transportation]," said Michael Brown, the FAA's director of information systems security. "The cards are going to be used not only for physical access, such as getting into doors, but also computer access."
The contract to manufacture and distribute the electronic cards is scheduled to be awarded within a couple of weeks. Mr. Brown would not identify the amount of the contract or the bidders. "That is procurement sensitive," he said.
Privacy has been recognized as a consideration even among the government employees who will participate in the six- to eight-month test of the cards.
"We've had the lawyers involved in this since Day One," Mr. Brown said. "We knew privacy was going to be a big concern, especially if you went to a registered-traveler card."
To get around the privacy concerns, the FAA developed a new technology. Images of a cardholder's fingerprint or iris will be stored only on the card issued to each employee not duplicated in a database. The card readers would convert the image information into a mathematical algorithm. When the algorithm read by the card reader matches one associated with the employee in the FAA's computer records, the person presenting the card can gain access to secure areas. If no match is made, entry will be denied.
"The files cannot replicate," Mr. Brown said. "That would lead to identity theft."


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