$85-million scanning system aims to speed up airport security lines

The new electronic credential authentication technology is being rolled out at major U.S. airports.
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There’s a new airport security machine in town, and it’s not out to scan you -- at least not your body. The Transportation Security Administration will be testing an $85-million credential authentication technology that allows its agents to scan your driver’s license or passport to verify it and view your boarding documents, all in one step.

Currently passengers at checkpoints hand over a boarding pass and ID, the TSA agent makes sure it’s you, checks your ID against your boarding pass, makes a notation on the pass and hands it back.

With credential authentication technology, or CAT, as it’s known, the agent scans your ID and your flight plan pops up on the screen. TSA says it will begin testing the system this fall.

How much time is saved? Each transaction should take 12 seconds per person from handoff to finish, says Jim Albers, senior vice president of government operations for MorphoTrust, the company that designed the technology and the machines.


The goal is to move 300 people an hour through the lines, more than double the current TSA rate.

“TSA is very interested in improving the traveler experience,” Albers says. He should know. His company also designed the PreCheck system that allows certain pre-screened passengers to breeze through security lines without removing belts and shoes or removing laptops from bags.

Albers explained that the scan of your ID -- the machine can read 2,800 kinds of credentials from around the world -- is linked to your airline reservation. The information is accessed electronically, so there’s no need for agents to hand-check boarding passes.

In fact, you won’t even need to print a boarding pass out for this phase of security, unless you can’t remember your boarding gate. (You’ll still probably need one to board your flight, of course.)


What could go wrong? Well, if your ID is rejected because it’s out of date or has been tampered with, you would be directed to a secondary inspection.

The TSA says in a statement that the technology will provide its officers with “enhanced detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent and/or invalid passenger identification documents.”

The contract was awarded to MorphoTrust in April and will cover a seven-year period.