TSA’s New Encrypted Boarding Pass Bar Code : Didn’t I Discuss This In Detail Last October?

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12/02/2009 – TSA’s New Encrypted Boarding Pass Bar Code : Didn’t I Discuss This In Detail Last October?

A few days ago the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) made it widely known that they would begin purchasing 2,300 electronic boarding pass scanners to be deployed to each airport checkpoint throughout the United States.

These new hand held electronic boarding pass scanners would be put into place with the introduction of an encrypted bar code on each boarding pass to check the validity of each boarding pass. The scanner will read the encrypted bar code   display the name and flight information of the passenger. This information must match the printed ‘plain English’ information on the boarding pass as well as the information on the passengers identification.

The encrypted bar code would effectively eliminate someone’s ability to alter a boarding pass that they produce when they check-in online   When someone checks in online the system generates a PDF which is printed out.   This automatically generated PDF file can be turned into a JPEG and easily altered using software such as Photoshop.   The additional of an encrypted bar code would make it virtually impossible to generate a false encrypted bar code, as this would require access to the airline’s internal system that generates the encrypted bar code.

…of course while the TSA is now first considering this idea, it has been discussed by many people outside the TSA for quite sometime.    I began to ponder this idea more than a year ago, and wrote about it in detail this past October in two entries on Flying With Fish.

You can read two posts on Flying With Fish that address the TSA’s need to upgrade its boarding pass security, with an encrypted bar code, here:
20/10/2008 – TSA Rolls Out PDA Based Boarding Pass : A Security Double Standard
24/10/2008 – U.S. Flyers Required To Provide Full Name & Date-of-Birth In 2009

The TSA sees this as a way to prevent terrorism.    In reality the TSA has a very important job, but to date they have yet to identify, stop or apprehend any terrorists, or anyone suspected of terrorists.   The real benefit of the encrypted bar code is not to prevent terrorism. The TSA’s new encrypted bar code would be most effective for two primary security purposes
1) Identifying and verifying a legitimate boarding pass
2) To integrate the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) wants & warrants data base

The first primary function of an encrypted bar code can be a slippery slope for the TSA’s mission to experience ‘mission creep.’   The TSA must be able to verify that a boarding pass is legitimate and that the person in possession of the boarding pass trying to pass through security is the person who is authorized to use the boarding pass.   The problem here is that the TSA could potentially end up enforcing airline revenue management and the TSA should not be involved in any way with handling airline revenue management issues.

The second primary function of the encrypted bar code would involve assisting law enforcement is identifying and apprehending people seeking to travel who have active warrants within the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) NCIC 2000 System.   Someone with an active warrant seeking to pass through a TSA check point would be quietly flagged and simply moved along to ‘random’ secondary screening’ where they’d be met by law enforcement to be correctly identified.

Many people have expressed concern that an encrypted bar code is a further way for ‘the government’ to track their movements.  It is important to note that should as soon as someone purchases a ticket with a credit card, there is a traceable record of their travel.   Should law enforcement need to track someone traveling, they do not need an encrypted bar code to find out a travel itinerary.   Every passenger on every flight has ‘paper trail.’ This ‘paper trail’ is easily traceable through a ‘Passenger Name Record‘ (PNR) and an airline ticket number.   If a passenger purchased their ticket through an online travel agency, such as Expedia or Orbitz, there is an additional traceable itinerary number.

The paranoia is not really applicable in the case of thinking an encrypted bar code will turn travel into something George Orwell could have easily written into ‘1984.’  The technology to track your travel has existed for years in very detailed and easily attainable information.

I know this new security feature will be seen and controversial, but personally, I am glad to see the new security feature being implemented.

On the topic of the TSA, the TSA has begun Twitter Alerts for those of you interested in following them.  You can follow the TSA on Twitter here: www.twitter.com/TSABlogTeam

Happy Flying!


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