Airport security tech scrutinized

The 2002 Silicon Valley Blue Ribbon Task Force on Aviation Security and Technology

A task force charged with reviewing current and emerging technologies to

improve security at the San Jose, Calif., airport has prepared a report

that could have national implications.

The report, which will be submitted today to the city council and the

federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA), focuses on promising

technologies that could address passenger convenience, security and cost,

said John Thompson, chairman and chief executive officer of Symantec Corp.

and chairman of the task force, which was convened by San Jose Mayor Ron

Gonzales and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).

Although the group's first objective was to improve security at Norman

Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, Thompson said local officials

want TSA to select the airport as one of 20 pilot sites to receive funding

for such security measures. TSA officials have already decided to study

security procedures at about 15 airports.

He said other airports across the country also could adopt the task

force's recommendations. "I think what's good about this report is that

it frames the problem and gives a prescription in application areas as opposed

to just running on about technology, retinal scanning, biometrics, and on

and on and on and on," he said.

"What we concluded was that technology certainly can be applied to the

issue of protecting the airports.... But it is as much about process as

it is technology," Thompson said. "How do you respond when there's an incident?

That's not technology. That's as much about having policies and practices

that are well articulated, well understood by everyone involved and rigorously

adhered to."

The report is divided into three broad areas, with technologies highlighted

for each. The areas are:

* Creating a trusted or validated facility by using technologies to

secure the perimeter of the airport, its buildings, and access into and

out of certain sections.

* Creating a trusted employee program using appropriate clearances and

authentication. Such a system also could be applied to a "validated passenger"

program, Thompson said.

* Creating a trusted network. "Airports today operate somewhat in isolation

and somewhat on open or unsecured networks," he said. "And so there's a

need to create a way to link airports and information about what's going

on in an airport onto a digitized network."

The group looked at current technologies to help "mitigate or solve

the problem today as we know it," he said, "and then we looked at concepts

or technologies that are further out that require further exploration for

which someone might want to have an ongoing vigilant look."

To do this, the report recommended a research and development focus

within TSA, the U.S. Transportation Department or another appropriate agency

"so systems don't become stale," he said.

Cost is another critical issue, he added.

"Much of what happens in an airport is controlled and funded by the

local authorities from a security point of view," he said. "And so before

we as a task force would mandate or suggest [that] these technologies could

work, somewhere along the way the process needs to be made clear as to where

the money's going to come from to ensure that we do in fact improve the

security of the airport."

Addressing the cost factor, Honda said, "Certainly the TSA and other

agencies involved with security will probably be participating in covering

the costs. But the government cannot carry all the costs itself, and that's

why public/private partnerships are going to be critical."

Honda cited the task force itself as an example of public/private cooperation.

"I think that this blue-ribbon task force is a good example of applying

entrepreneurial spirit to protect a democracy that depends heavily on public

and private partnerships," he said.

Task force members included technology and airline executives as well

as representatives from higher education, law enforcement and the federal

government. The task force held a public hearing that drew about 75 participants

and received proposals from more than 40 companies.

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