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Does photo ID really improve airport security?

Is it time to apply the rules of common sense to the photo ID fetish in transport security?

A report in today’s SMH says that “a parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement, which is holding hearings into the adequacy of Australia’s aviation and maritime security, has heard testimony that criminals are exploiting airlines’ self check-in systems to travel interstate using false identities.”

Just as they are no doubt exploiting the roads and railways  to travel between suburbs, if not interstate, when they are not in the casinos or at race meetings laundering money.

I haven’t been asked for photo ID on any bus, train or ferry, or at any domestic airport, or other place of public ‘entertainment’ in this country ever. Very, very few Australian would have been asked for this either.

But just suppose for a moment that suddenly the presentation of photo ID was required of everyone entering an airport. What would it prove? All it does it tell you that a person with the name shown should look like the photo called up by a data base checking device.

If there is no such device in use, and there are none outside of passport control in the international terminals, then the process is just another piece of security ‘nonsense’.

But let’s be serious about using a photo/name data base match to detect criminality or risk such that the security checker would run for his or her life.

This process would require not only that the photo and name record offered by the person being checked perfectly matched the ‘perfectly up-to-date’ photo and name combinations on the data bases that were interrogated, but also require that it produced negative matches with the higher level criminal record data bases and those of ASIO.

People with common names, like Smith, where any combination of first and middle names is more than likely to cause ambiguous or inconsistent results, would be advised to stay at home or change their surnames, to something like Urckogmitzer, or Rfitzgunter. The sort of surnames that register as ‘strong’ passwords when you set up a Google G mail account.

Australia doesn’t have a centralised name and photo reconciliation data base that is updated in real time against criminal records or intelligence lists. It doesn’t have an intelligence agency that is silly enough to trust other agencies with data that any poorly educated half wit wearing a security uniform can access by entering  driver licence details for example.

And computerised data bases go down almost as regularly as the NAB locks up people’s automated wage payments, or idiots trip over power plugs at airports, or passengers enter via exits.

If the same logic is applied to those outages as the gross incompetence that applies to something simple like protecting doors, or electrical cords, a data base failure in say Canberra or Hobart would require the total shutting down, evacuating and rescreening of airports right across the country because there is a risk that terrorists, carrying the correct photo ID that screams ‘I am a terrorist risk’, might then slip through.

Spot the fatal error in the photo ID checking logic. It assumes that there is a data base that tells us who the terrorists or serious criminals are. We don’t have one, because they don’t include the terrorists or criminals who haven’t yet committed a crime, or been good enough to fill out the forms correctly.

If we were to ever get to the position of compiling name/photo data bases of criminals who we could legally turn away from an airport then they should already be under life time restrictions that forbid them going to supermarkets, race courses, pubs, rock concerts or prohibit their using buses, trains, ferries or driving their cars or trucks across bridges or through tunnels.

In so far as transport security is concerned, the photo ID fetish is literally all about appearances rather than actions.

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  • 1
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Besides – it’s not a legal requirement that anyone carry identity papers in Australia yet. It is still legal to walk about with empty pockets.

  • 2
    TomM
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    As for the person in the article describing how ‘criminal gangs’ are using the system to smuggle contra band around Australia…how is that any different to them simply jumping in a car / truck and driving the stuff around instead? All bit of a security / paranoia overkill.

  • 3
    notmensa
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    In the US airports I’ve entered (as a domestic traveller), the only time I’ve presented ID is at the point of entering the secured area. The TSA agent only checks that name on the ID matches the name on the boarding pass, and does a visual check that my face matches the ID. There is no computer involved at this point (unless they are scanning an electronic boarding pass on a mobile phone).

    Presumably the computer-based checks are done well beforehand – at the point of purchasing the ticket.

  • 4
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    notmensa,

    Same here in relation to the TSA. However all that would prove in the event of a faked photo ID is that the fake was of acceptable quality.

  • 5
    bsg
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    “criminals are exploiting airlines’ self check-in systems to travel interstate using false identities”.

    In other words, *suspected* criminals are traveling anonymously.

    Wow. That seems really scary.

    Hang on, no it doesnt. I think thats actually ok. In fact I think thats an ok subset of “people should be able to travel anonymously”. You know, privacy and all that. So far, there is no border checkpoints between the various states in Australia, why should airports be a special case?

    Its pure scare-mongering, with a agenda of using fear to erode peoples privacy and liberties.

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