ID Cards for `Trusted Travelers' Run Into Some Thorny Questions

posted Apr 09, 2002

'The idea seemed simple: figure out who the good guys are, give them easy-to-recognize and hard-to-counterfeit ID cards and let them breeze past airport security.

'Everybody would win, advocates say. Holders of the "trusted traveler" cards would save time. Screeners would have fewer bodies to inspect — there were 1.8 billion in 2000, according to the Transportation Department — and could concentrate on identifying potential terrorists. And passengers would feel safer.

'There is only one problem: It is proving extraordinarily difficult to figure out who would qualify for a card that would work as advertised.'

I think the "thorny question" alluded to in the title of the article goes something "How the *$#&%# do you implement this in real life?" Sure sounded nice on paper, didn't it?

I'm sure it's gonna be another case of too little, too late, but it's nice to see somebody finally grappling with reality. There have been far too many impossible solutions proposed to the terrorism problems (many with the proposers intending to profit), but the fact is, 'trusted' ID cards are impossible, face recognition technology plucking terrorists out of crowds is still safely in the "impossible" category, and all the ticket-modification proposals I've seen all won't do anything except annoy consumers. (The one exception so far I've seen is face-recognition at the security check-in area, where it's looking at one face at a time, in known lighting and in reasonably constrained angles. I concede that might be technically feasible, but the odds are still bad that it will actually catch anyone amongst the hundreds of false positives.)

I hope to see more of these stories.

(Reminder: The problem with impossible solutions is that damage done when somebody tries to implement them. The benefits are illusory; the costs anything but. In fact, anyone boneheaded enough to believe the benefits would be real tend to seriously underestimate the costs. Even though the system will eventually be shut down, thought it could be a while due to pride, the damage done in the meantime can be large, both in terms of number of people affected, and the damage done to a single person. I would not want to be fingered as a terrorist; that'll ruin your week.)


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