Homeland Security

TSA nominee touts biometric exit pilots

Shutterstock image (by Bruce Rolff): machine fingerprint. 

Technology trials at two airports that allow some passengers to use their verified fingerprints as boarding passes could become part of the airport security checkpoint of the future where interlinked databases speed ID checks and security lines, the nominee for the Transportation Security Administration's administrator said.

"I'm excited about those two pilot programs," said David Pekoske, the White House's nominee to head up the TSA. The White House nominated Pekoske, a 33-year Coast Guard veteran who rose to the position of commandant between 2009 and 2010.

Pekoske was asked at his June 21 Senate confirmation hearing about the two trials unveiled by the TSA earlier in June at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and at Denver International Airport. The pilot programs allows pre-screened passengers in the agency's Precheck program use their fingerprints as boarding passes to get on their appointed aircraft.

In announcing the trials, the agency said it was working on "proof of concept" for the biometric technology and evaluating its operational and security impact at the facilities.

The TSA said the technology matches fingerprints gathered by scanners at the checkpoint against fingerprints gathered from participants in its Precheck pre-screening program. If the fingerprints at the checkpoint match those in the database, the agency said, the system taps into the passenger's boarding pass information provided through the Secure Flight database fueled by information from commercial airlines. Participation in the pilot, the agency said, is voluntary, and all participants will still have to go through the regular boarding pass/ID check.

One key issue that remains is who is going to pay for it. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, airlines are not eager to bear the costs of installing cameras to record biometric markers at gates or to impose more delays on travelers by ensuring that cameras capture the required data.

Pekoski told the lawmakers that technology and process innovation, along with workforce and surface transportation security, will be his three key focus areas once he takes office.

"I think we should be willing to try things out, and if they don't work as envisioned, then we should look somewhere else. The 'trying them out' is important," he said.

This is the second biometric trial launched by a Department of Homeland Security agency at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Customs and Border Protection is conducting its own trial at the airport of a biometric entry/exit system that verifies the identities of foreign travelers moving through U.S. airports. 

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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