TSA Proposes Device That Tracks Cell Phones, Wait Times

kalleboo, flickr

The Transportation Security Administration is considering installing devices in airports that target traveler's personal smartphones and PDAs, in an effort to help passengers avoid long security lines, according to a report by USA Today.

The devices would detect personal electronic equipment in order to gather security line wait times, and then post the findings on websites and in airports across the country.

"This technology will produce valuable data that can be used in a variety of ways," Lauren Gaches, a TSA spokeswoman, told USA Today -- including the potential to prevent problems at checkpoints.

Christopher Bidwell, security chief at Airports Council International, told USA Today that the technology would remove some of the uncertainty of air travel, as long as the data gathered is "real-time, up-to-date and accurate."

Civil-liberties experts have responded to the proposed devices with concerns over the government's ability to track travelers.

It's serious business when the government begins to get near people's personal-communication devices," Jay Stanley, an American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert told USA Today.

No devices currently exist, however the TSA is in the early phases of exploring the technology. Last year, Purdue University researchers tested similar equipment by placing dime-sized receivers near checkpoints at Indianapolis International Airport. The test ran for a month, and detected serial numbers emitted by some passenger's personal electronics. The information was then used to find out the length of time it took individual passengers to clear security, according to USA Today.

Darcy Bullock, a Purdue transportation engineer involved in the testing, found that the devices detected signals from 6% to 10% of travelers passing through the airport, according to USA Today. Bullock also noted that only part of each serial number was recorded, and that the numbers were promptly deleted.

Some electronic devices manually broadcast their serial number every 15-20 seconds once they are turned on, however the devices can be set to keep them from broadcasting.

While no such devices are currently employed in the U.S., several European airports have begun carrying similar systems. According to USA Today, London's Heathrow Airport is working with airlines to begin implementing the technology.
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