Security vs freedom: helping civil aviation strike the balance

February 2002 News & Events

Helping to protect human life, and to protect important physical assets, is what the security industry has been about since before its official inception.

The recent tragic events did not stem from a failure of technology. As security professionals already know, it takes a combination of people, programs and technology to adequately implement security, based upon a realistic idea of the security needs. A failure or shortfall in any one of these elements can mean a failure of the entire system.

Law enforcement view

As would be expected, the recent events have caused a great deal of attention to be placed on the anti-terrorist aspect of aviation security. To do a proper assessment of security needs and security technology requirements requires a much more complete view of the security issues.

There are a few categories of criminal threats that confront aviation security. It includes the various groups and agencies that have responsibility for managing security related to each category of crime. The categories are:

* Opportunistic crime - Dishonest people or small time criminals who cannot resist the opportunity to profit from an easy 'take'.

* Employee crime - Individual employee internal theft or baggage pilfering.

* Individual career criminals - Individual instances of purse theft, theft of a bag, or theft of items from an easily accessible automobile.

* Organised theft rings - This is organised theft of cash and credit cards, mostly at checkpoints. The cash or cards are taken out of the purse or bag, which is left on the conveyor or table. It takes seconds only. By a telephone call to others in the theft ring, up to $10 000 can be charged on the cards within minutes. The cards are immediately discarded after the call is made.

* Organised transportation rings - Drugs, weapons, stolen goods, and other contraband are transported in various ways.

* Organised terrorism - Terrorist explosives and weapons detection is the primary purpose for checkpoint and baggage screening.

It is ironic that one of the security measures in place for one category of crime, terrorism, has actually created the opportunity for another category of crime, theft at checkpoints. In some airports this is roughly 30% of the crime encountered at the airport. Airports have a much more complicated security picture than shopping malls or office buildings. Due to the wide spectrum of possible crime there are many companies and agencies that are involved in airport security.

Proactive vs reactive

Historically, advances in airport security have been reactive. Part of the problem that airport security managers face is the fact that national security issues and the threat of terrorism make it difficult to assess how far to take security initiatives. Furthermore, the cost of anti-terrorism technology is extremely high compared to other security technology. However, many security challenges have been identified that do not require input from outside influences in order for airports to take action. The challenges fall into these categories:

* Access control/personnel identification.

* Checkpoint screening.

* Baggage inspection/baggage matching.

* Perimeter security.

* Responding to security incidents.

The following are examples of how some of these security challenges are met:

Access control/personnel identification

To eliminate the problem of stolen or counterfeit badges being used for unauthorised access, some airports such as San Francisco International have already begun deployment of biometric systems.

Checkpoint screening

A primary tool to combat checkpoint theft is CCTV. When used with a digital recording system to speed video review and searches, it has the added customer service benefit of being able to quickly resolve false incidents of missing items such as where one family member has picked up another family member's item. When a sufficient number of cameras are used that all activity in the screening area can be recorded, thefts are recorded and the video record can be used as evidence. When video displays are installed so that passengers and potential thieves are made aware of the cameras, the cameras can be a significant deterrent. Checkpoint cameras are also a primary point to use facial recognition against a database of known terrorists, a technology in which airports now have a renewed strong interest.

Baggage inspection/baggage matching

San Francisco International Airport is the first airport to implement an integrated Checked Baggage Inspection System (CBIS), which is part of the new 2,5 million square foot international terminal complex, the largest international terminal in North America. It has 24 wide-body gates, and 128 common-use ticket counters. Its baggage handling system includes 7 miles of conveyor belts. The system is able to perform 100% X-ray of all outbound international bags. If X-ray technology determines that the bag is suspect, it has further selected explosives detection screening (EDS) examination.

The system uses single chip systems/ultra electronics 2,45 GHz tag-reading system for bag routing. Encoders at the ticket counters write data onto the tags, which are then attached to the bags. Screening of bags that are selected for EDS examination are automatically routed to the detection equipment, which is completely out of sight of passengers. This eliminates ticket counter personnel having to confront passengers regarding selected baggage inspections. It has also reduced the contract security staffing requirement by 50%, providing a significant return on investment.

Responding to security incidents

Time is of the essence in realtime security response, but it must be informed response for security personnel to be maximally effective. The ability to transmit a video image of a suspect to security personnel can make or break the ability to recognise and apprehend the suspect. The ability to publicly display a suspect's image can speed the location of the suspect and can also act as a deterrent. After the fact, documentation of the incident is of high importance. If the suspect is apprehended, the video record of the crime is essential for prosecution, and in almost all cases results in a plea bargain, reducing court appearances and their attendant expense.

Deploying security technology

The importance of thorough assessment, evaluation and planning cannot be overstated. Security assessment and evaluation can often omit a critical step: a re-evaluation to take into account the new risks and problems that may be introduced by the proposed security measures. This is a process that may have to be performed in several iterations. One example is the institution of passenger screening points. The separation of passengers from their belongings creates an opportunity for crime that didn't exist previously. That calls for additional security measures due to the created risk, both preventive (such as attentive security personnel and/or police, and public displays of video camera signals) and remedial measures (recorded video that can be used as evidence).

The future of airport security technology

Currently airport security is a very complex picture in need of simplification. Much of the task of simplifying it lies outside the realm of the security industry.

Certainly security technology can be intelligently deployed to help reduce or eliminate various types of crime at airports. Airports, air carriers and travellers would all be happy to have would-be thieves driven out of airports. Hopefully wherever they would be driven to, law enforcement will be ready and waiting.

The eradication of organised criminal activities requires actions from outside the perimeters of airports, as well as from within them. Advanced technologies can be used to help eliminate opportunities for criminal activity, by prevention and detection, so that airports are no longer attractive targets for drug smuggling or terrorist actions. If large commercial airports are successfully fortified will organised criminals and terrorists simply move to smaller, less-protected airports? Questions like this point out the importance of thoroughly evaluating security consequences not just within individual airports but also across the entire civil aviation system.

As security professionals, now more than ever before our knowledge and skill will be called upon. Our diligence in applying ourselves to our tasks, in doing a thorough and complete job, and in taking into account the full context in which security technology is to be deployed will result in sound airport security applications that help safeguard lives and protect valuable assets.

Published with the kind permission of Security and Technology Design magazine -

While long-term solutions are being evaluated, and short-term solutions are immediately being put into place, here are ways that we can help:

* Refrain from presenting advanced security technology as 'silver bullet' solutions, no matter how impressive their capabilities.

* Continue working to simplify the deployment of technology.

* Consider the context in which security technology will be used, designing to help speed customer service in that context wherever possible.

* Continue to develop products and systems that support fast and informed response by security personnel.

* Include audit trails and system verification features in computerised systems, to help users confirm that their systems remain secure and are not being misutilised.

* Anticipate that systems which record information, including CCTV systems, will be subject to information storage and handling rules and policies; build in ways to set up appropriate rules and policies, along with means to verify that they remain in place.

* Provide products and systems that help eliminate security dependencies on human factors issues, or that mitigate the impact of human failures.

* Explore the opportunities for open system protocols and for expanding product compatibilities; this makes investment in security technology safer and makes integration across customer system boundaries a possibility.

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