• United States

Logan Airport using BlackBerries for background checks

Jun 22, 20043 mins
Cellular NetworksNetworkingSecurity

Long an indispensable gadget for lawyers and businessmen, the BlackBerry wireless handheld device from Research In Motion has been drafted into the U.S.’ war on terrorism.

Massachusetts State Police officers patrolling Boston’s Logan International Airport are using BlackBerries to perform background checks on suspicious individuals, according to a statement Tuesday from LocatePlus Holdings, which makes the AnyWhere RIM BlackBerry product the police use to perform the checks.

LocatePlus signed a contract with the state police to provide the devices, including members of the state police’s anti-terrorism unit and investigative units based at the airport. State police officers have used the devices in a formal pilot program since April, LocatePlus CEO Jon Latorella said.

State police are using the devices to do background checks on suspicious persons and vehicles in the field, comparing information on the scene to LocatePlus’ Internet-based XML database, which contains information on more than 200 million U.S. residents, according to a statement attributed to Massachusetts State Police Lieutenant Thomas Coffey.

The LocatePlus database integrates data from a wide variety of public and private sources, including public and private sources, such as motor vehicle records. Using proprietary data mining technology, LocatePlus analyzes the data and assigns a security rating to individuals. Information is encrypted using 512-bit Secure Sockets Layer encryption. In addition, individual BlackBerry devices must be registered with LocatePlus to access the information, he said.

While the company does not disclose exactly how it determines security rankings, Latorella said factors such as whether someone has lived in the U.S. for their whole life and the pattern of residences they use can affect the rating. Similarly, a scarcity of information on an individual or a lack of a permanent address might raise flags, he said.

“There’s no one thing that may make a difference,” he said.

Among other things, the LocatePlus service has features that let authorities perform reverse lookups on some cellular telephone numbers and unlisted numbers, he said.

That information is derived from data stores using the company’s data mining technology and is often not available to police officers without a warrant otherwise, he said.

The AnyWhere product integrates information from the company’s database with wireless handheld search and messaging features. Officers access the database through a secure Web-based portal using wireless access provided by EarthLink, a LocatePlus partner, Latorella said.

The service typically costs $99 per month per device, he said.

Other state police units and authorities in other jurisdictions around the country are already using the service, he said.

Since earning ignominious distinction as the point of departure for two of the four hijacked planes used in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Logan has been an early adopter of technology that could be used to thwart future attacks.

In addition to a baggage screening system, Logan in recent years installed a document authentication system to verify the identities of potential employees. The airport has also tested a number of other technologies, including biometric authentication systems and thermal imaging cameras and the software to monitor the airport’s perimeter, according to the Massachusetts Port Authority, the state agency that runs Logan.