2003 10 23 NYT TECHNOLOGY; Venture to Offer ID Card for Use at Security Checks – New York Times
TECHNOLOGY; Venture to Offer ID Card for Use at Security Checks
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: October 23, 2003
Americans hate to wait. But will they pay — and submit to security screenings and even high-technology fingerprinting — to avoid the long lines snaking behind checkpoints in airports, office buildings and sports arenas?
Steven Brill is betting that the answer is yes. Mr. Brill, a journalist and entrepreneur, will announce today a new company, Verified Identity Card Inc., which will offer customers an electronic card containing data showing that they are not on terrorism watch lists and do not have certain felony convictions on their records.
If businesses, airports and government agencies sign on to the plan and put Verified’s card readers at security checkpoints, cardholders would be able to zip through, avoiding the most thorough searches.
Mr. Brill, who created CourtTV and The American Lawyer and Brill’s Content magazines, joins a wave of companies hoping to fill a need and make a profit as government agencies and businesses scramble to shore up defenses against terrorism.
The card, he said, could serve as a more palatable alternative to a government-mandated national ID card, which is opposed by privacy advocates and the Bush administration.
Although the idea of a voluntary identity verification network is not new, Mr. Brill’s is the highest-profile effort to bring about such a system. He has enlisted the Civitas Group as an investor. Civitas is a Washington company headed by Michael J. Hershman, a security consultant. Its co-chairmen are Samuel R. Berger, national security adviser in the Clinton administration, and Charles Black, a former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan and the first President George Bush.
Other partners include Lehman Brothers; TransCore, the company that created the E-ZPass electronic toll system; and ChoicePoint, a Georgia company that will screen the customers.
Mr. Brill declined to discuss how much money he had raised or how much the start-up of the company would cost.
He said that customer data would not be sold or shared with other companies, and the system could not be used to track customer movements from checkpoint to checkpoint. He did say, however, that the company would probably alert law enforcement officials about an applicant whose name appears on a terrorist watch list.
He also said he planned to seek an independent ombudsman appointed by a privacy rights organization to monitor the company’s privacy practices.
Those promises do not satisfy Marc Rotenberg, who heads the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. ”I don’t think it will necessarily come as an assurance to most Americans that a Big Brother card is being minted in the private sector and not in the government,” he said.
He said that the system was probably unworkable. In any case, he said, it would have to be developed and deployed in close cooperation with the government, and would thus end up sharing many characteristics with the unpopular national ID card. ”If it walks like a national ID card and quacks like a national ID card, it’s a national ID card.”
Matt Blaze, a cryptography and security expert at AT&T Labs-Research, warned that a central database could become an attractive target for subversion. ”The card has to be almost perfect or it becomes worse than useless, because it provides a single point of failure for multiple security systems,” he said.
Lawrence A. Ponemon, a privacy consultant based in Tucson, said that managing privacy while providing accurate identification raises remarkably complex issues. A flawed system could, for example, unfairly bar people who should have been approved. Still, Mr. Ponemon said he was glad to see the private sector tackle the problem.
Mr. Brill said that he got the inspiration for the company while working on his book, ”After: How America Confronted the September 12th Era.” He said that as he worked on the book and the security issues it dealt with, ”it just sort of hit me over the head that somebody ought to do this.”
The cards will be linked to their owners through finger- and thumb-print scans at security turnstiles. The network could be at demonstration sites in the first half of next year, the company said. The enrollment cost would be $30 to $50 a person, with a fee of a few dollars each month to maintain the cardholder’s information. Businesses, the company said, could buy the cards to improve efficiency at their own checkpoints and to give their employees the benefits of the broader network.
The biggest challenge, Mr. Brill said, was not the technology, which is already fully developed for other purposes, but building the network of companies that will recognize the card. They would have to install card readers at building entrances or add the technology to existing turnstiles.
While some experts like Mr. Ponemon say that Americans are unlikely to pay for the promise of added security and convenience, Mr. Hershman said he takes a longer view. People might change their minds if another tragedy occurs and tighter security measures create even longer lines, he said.
”The problem, likely, is going to get worse before it gets better.”