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Tagging Passengers to Improve Airport Security

Alok Jha / London Guardian | October 13 2006

Air travellers could soon be electronically tagged inside airports in a bid to improve security. The technology would use wrist bands or boarding passes embedded with computer chips and allow authorities to track passenger movement around terminal buildings.

Paul Brennan, an electronic engineer at University College London who is leading work on the EU-funded Optag system, said it would combine high resolution panoramic video imaging with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to enhance airport security, safety and efficiency. "It would work if each passenger were issued with a tag, which could allow location to about one metre accuracy," he said. "The video and tag data can be merged to give a very powerful surveillance capability."

RFID tags work by emitting a short radio message when interrogated by an electronic tag reader. Dr Brennan said that Optag RFID chips would not store any personal details.

"They emit a unique ID which is then cross-referenced to the passenger information already on the system - maybe the name and flight number of the passenger. Perhaps in the future that would be extended to things like biometric data." The tags would be linked to a network of CCTV cameras, which could be used to monitor movement of people around terminal buildings.

Dr Brennan said: "It can allow precise tracking of certain individuals if they seem to be a security risk of any sort. It can help to evacuate the airport. It can provide rapid location of lost children."

Optag could also ensure that passengers get to a gate on time to board aircraft. Dr Brennan said that flight delays due to late-running passengers cost airlines €100m a year in Europe. A trial of the system will be carried out at Debrecen airport in Hungary later this year, and, if it is successful, Optag could be developed for commercial use within a few years.

Dr Brennan revealed details of his project yesterday at the launch of UCL's Centre for Security and Crime, a new institute aimed at bringing together different scientists to tackle crime and terrorism.

At the launch Robert Speller, a medical physicist at UCL, also part of the new institute, gave details of how he has used his research to develop an X-ray scanning technology that can identify different types of explosives or drugs in baggage. He said it was only a matter of time before terrorists used a dirty bomb.

 

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