May 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   BIOMETRIC SCREENING RAISES NEW POSSIBILITIES AND CONCERNS
Airports Eye Retina Tests at Check-InImage
Only you: Biometrics scan unique features Officials at airports around the country are looking into the cutting-edge science of biometric screening as another tool to bolster security. How efficient and effective the new technology will be is still up in the air.

Biometrics involve using high-tech sensory devices to measure various “inalterable” human features such as the iris, retina, hand and facial characteristics. The problem, say some experts, is that airports are adopting different biometric systems and not creating standards or a central data base to make the technology really effective.

“Whatever the ultimate standard or criteria, it must be uniform. You can’t have a myriad of technologies competing here,” said a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Air Transport Association.

Another area of concern over the new security measures is whether they will alleviate or exacerbate today’s lengthy lines at airports. Some facilities, such as Heathrow International in London, offer expedited check-in service for frequent flyers who submit to biometric scanning.

“We’ve had VIP passes for many years, so anything new that would speed up the process, and at the same time not impinge on security, I am all for,” said Richard Copland, CEO of the the Alexandria, Va.-based American Society of Travel Agents.

So far, at least eight U.S. airports, including facilities in Boston; Chicago; New York City; San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have opted to use some type of biometrics, at least on a trial basis. Of these, both Boston’s Logan and San Francisco International are investing in more than one kind of system.

Then there’s the issue of cost-effectiveness. “This is still an economically driven system,” said John Nance, a Federal Way, Wash.-based aviation analyst for ABC-TV. “If we make it [more complex], we may be able to permanently prevent ever having a hijacking, but we are going to lose a third of our system to bankruptcies.”

Experts say the implementation of biometrics will likely begin with the screening of airport workers, not commercial passengers. “The prospect of getting the foreign population of the United States into an iris-recognition database or of retinally scanning 280 million Americans is nil to zero for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Nance.

• B.O.

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