• United States

Have identity cards, will travel

Apr 16, 20033 mins
Access ControlEnterprise Applications

* How identity mgmt. could make airports less stressful environments

Have you flown from an U.S. airport recently? Evidently not a lot of other people have, either. That’s the major reason why all the major U.S. carriers are in big trouble. Even perennial profit-leader Southwest Airlines (a big user of Novell eDirectory, by the way) has said that its first quarter returns won’t be up to its usual stellar performance. And, yes, I will tie this into identity management.

One reason for the drop in ridership is the pure hassle that getting on a plane involves in our post-Sept. 11 world. The scanning, the pat-downs, the finger searches, the removal of hats and coats and shirts and shoes – all of this takes place sometimes twice or more, especially if you change planes – it’s a real downer. Getting your car searched on the way in and out of the airport adds to the frustration. The lines are shorter now than they were last fall, but only because a lot fewer people are flying – not good news for the airlines.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks a year and a half ago, Larry Ellison, among others, proposed a national identity card system. Larry’s system, of course, was based on using an Oracle database, but that in and of itself shouldn’t detract from the plan. Since then, some people – including American Airlines – have suggested a voluntary identity system run through the airlines’ frequent flyer programs. Not much has been done with those suggestions, however, but maybe they should.

Privacy advocates get upset whenever identity cards are mentioned. Privacy zealots refuse to even consider giving up a tad of their anonymity for any purpose. These are the people who won’t even use credit cards, preferring a totally cash-based (and thus, anonymous) society. But think about it – those people aren’t going to fly anyway, because there’s no anonymous way to book a seat on a scheduled airline.

As some have proposed that systems, smartcards, biometrics, federated directories and existing government data repositories could be combined to provide verifiable authentication for those willing to allow their identity information to the system. No one would be forced to use this system, people could continue to fly just as they do today. But for those of us who resent the lines, the restrictions on what’s in our carry-on, the poking and prodding and other irritations, we could choose to verify our data and be issued an identity device that would guarantee our persona. Use of this device at an airport checkpoint whisks us through and onto the plane just as quickly as those first class upgrades come through for the 100,000-miles-a-year travelers.

The details, of course, need to be worked out. But I do believe that a subset of the Liberty Alliance, for example, could start to work on a possible specification – there are certainly enough travel industry-related members. It wouldn’t be difficult, but it could make flying enjoyable again. Or, at least, make airports more fun than they are now.