Biometric Blunders at the Airport

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) is pushing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement a biometric identification program for port and maritime workers, whether it is ready or not.

Mica’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held hearings last week at which the TSA was scolded for not having the biometric version of its security program up and running.

There’s a good reason the system isn’t installed; it’s not ready.  The TSA itself says the system is still being debugged and recognizes the unique problems associated with biometric technology..  So do the federal government’s own technology experts.

Biometric mistakes can be costly.  Just ask Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer whose fingerprints the F.B.I. mistakenly identified as matching prints from the Madrid subway bombing.  He was taken from his home in handcuffs, strip-searched, and put in prison for two weeks before the Spanish police convinced the F.B.I. they had the wrong man.

The TSA hasn’t exactly been reluctant about introducing controversial new technology.  Thanks to them, we now have to undergo an electronic strip-search when we get on an airplane.  Aside from the abuse of the machine images, we recently learned that these body imaging systems expose passengers to possibly dangerous levels of radiation that TSA wasn’t “expecting”.

The TSA is already giving privacy and safety short shrift in its rush to install new technology.  Do we really need Congress pushing TSA to move faster?

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