The Investigators: Bogus boarding passes - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: Bogus boarding passes

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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - The nation learned a lot of lessons after September 11, including keeping track of known terrorists and not letting them on planes.

To do that, the Transportation Security Administration screens airline passengers against the "No Fly" list.  TSA agents then check ID at security to make sure you are who you say you are.

The system works fine, unless you have a fake boarding pass.

Germantown businessman and frequent flyer Patrick Green discovered what he called a lapse in security screenings about two years ago.

"A little scary that anyone can do it," said Green.

The TSA has known about the lapse for almost three years.

"You can still do it," said Green.  "Nobody's made any changes for it."

The security lapse is the ability to buy an airline ticket in someone else's name and then change the boarding pass to your own.

For example, a person on the "No Fly" list books a flight in "John Doe's" name with "John Doe's" birth date.  "John Doe" then gets screened against the "No Fly" list.  He clears and the person who booked the flight checks into the flight online and prints the boarding pass to a .PDF file.

Using a simple photo editing program, the name on the .PDF file can be replaced with anyone's name.

A person with two boarding passes, one that is cleared and one that is not, could feasibly get straight through.

The TSA acknowledged the problem in 2008 with an official blog post, saying, in part, "We're not naïve enough to say the system is foolproof.  We've seen the 'boarding pass generator' websites and know how to use Photoshop...the broader point is accurate...we could be better on this issue. Some months ago, a team of people at TSA went to work on it."

That was nearly three years ago, and the lapse has not been corrected.

A simple solution is to lock the data, like banks do, preventing .PDF files from being altered once they are issued from the airline.  Another solution is to add a scanner to the first security checkpoint that is in sync with the "No Fly" list.

The TSA would not answer our questions.  They did offer a statement that said, "We continue to work with the airline industry to explore technological solutions that would allow us to positively identify passengers through their boarding pass and ID."

The Action News 5 Investigators discovered the TSA requested bids last month to purchase a computer system to identify fake IDs and board passes.  Green said simply locking the data is an easy fix to a threat the TSA has taken seriously for years.

"We have to know for sure that each person who goes through matches the name on their boarding pass," said the TSA blog.  "We view identity as importantly as we view having passengers pass through metal detectors."

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