The U.S. Secretary of Transportation's Rapid Response Team on air travel security late Friday made public a set of recommendations that build on President George W. Bush's Sept. 27 call to make commercial airports and airliners more secure against terrorism.
The team's recommendations call for significant new uses of information technology, including issuing "smart" credentials for passengers and provisions for integrating intelligence agencies' data with information in airport and airline databases.
The team proposed that the government set up a new federal security agency run by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The agency would oversee the progress of setting new standards for security operations, background checks and the training of security personnel, according to a statement.
Some of the new security standards would include linking airline and airport computing systems with those run by law enforcement organizations and national security agencies. The government would gain access to passenger reservation data, employee and passenger identification and carriers' background check information.
The background checks would include putting all passengers through the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS). CAPPS is a tool for looking at information about a passenger in a carrier's reservation system and "scoring" the passenger as either a "selectee" or a "non-selectee." The two characterizations can narrow down which passengers may be a more likely threat.
In addition, the team suggested that a host of new identification technologies be used to check the identities of airport workers and passengers and the contents of baggage.
"The Rapid Response Team urges that available technologies be incorporated more widely in or airport security program as soon as practicable," the team wrote in the statement.
However, the team voiced concerns that using technology such as biometric scanning in addition to current security check points could create large lines and slow airport operations. With this in mind, the team proposed the use of "smart" credentials that could validate a traveler's identity and background in advance, if the passenger chose to participate. Those passengers who were not previously deemed to be a risk could pass to the gate "through a less intense security process."
A new Aviation Security Technology Consortium should be created by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to monitor and test the updated security technology, the team said.
The team also recommended US$20 million be invested in "innovative, new technologies" to enhance flight deck security on planes.
The new DOT recommendations appear to be on the same page as recommendations for improved security that have come from executives at high-tech firms since the Sept. 11 attacks.
For example, Dave Kellogg, a senior vice president at Business Objects SA, a San Jose, California-based vendor, said that if the government had databases on everyone who takes flight lessons and everyone who has even the most remote relation to terrorist groups, and if those databases were integrated, the resulting information could lead to important warning signs.
Turning recommendations into practice takes some additional work, said a chief executive officer (CEO) at a business intelligence company.
"At the end of the day, we need the bandwidth. You have to have the system capability so that when a passenger goes up to a biometric device and puts his or her thumb onto the reader you can have your picture come up. To have all those systems behind it, you have to get the Internet faster than it is and have more sophisticated access to data," said Ron Zambonini, CEO and president of Cognos Inc., a business intelligence software company in Ottawa, Ontario.
Zambonini also believes that passengers in the future may be issued a "license to fly," an idea not unlike the DOT recommendation for the issuance of "smart" credentials. The license would identify the passenger with a history.
"The data is there. It is a question of getting it related. The political and privacy aspects to access are bigger than technical problem," Zambonini said.
The team's report will be used by Congress and the Bush administration as a basis for creating new security measures, DOT said in a statement Friday.
Participating in the rapid response team on airport security were: Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines Co.; Raymond Kelly, former commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and veteran law enforcement officer; Charles M. (Chip) Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE); and Richard H. Anderson, chief executive officer of Northwest Airlines Inc.
The airport security report is posted at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/airportsec.htm and the aircraft security report is at http://www.dot.gov/affairs/aircraftsec.htm.
(Stephen Lawson, a San Francisco-based correspondent for IDG News Service, contributed to this report.)