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TSA eyes RFID boarding passes to track airline passengers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is examining the use of RFID-tagged airline boarding passes that could allow passenger tracking within airports, a proposal some privacy advocates called a potentially “outrageous” violation of civil liberties.

Anthony “Buzz” Cerino, communications security technology lead at the TSA, said the agency believes the use of boarding passes with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips could speed up the movement of passengers who sign on to the agency’s “registered traveler” program. This would permit them to pass through a secure “special lane” during the boarding process.

Under the registered traveler program, frequent fliers would provide the TSA with detailed personal information that would be correlated by a background check. Privacy advocates said they believe the RFID boarding pass would then serve as an automatic link to the registered traveler database. Details about how the system might work haven’t been released by the TSA, and Cerino couldn’t be reached today for further comment.

Cerino didn’t say when or if the TSA would push for introduction of the RFID boarding passes or how such a project – likely to require a massive, networked infrastructure – would be funded.

The TSA has already started to work on deploying RFID boarding passes in Africa under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Safe Skies for Africa Initiative – the initiative identifies Angola, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe as member countries.

Katherine Albrecht, founder and director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), a privacy group that has fought the use of RFID tags by retailers and other organizations, called the idea a potentially “shocking and outrageous” violation of civil liberties.

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