TSA Upgrades Airport ID Checks with Black Lights

Handheld black lights are starting to be used at airport security checkpoints to examine driver's licenses and other passenger ID cards presented at checkpoints. The black lights--about three inches long and costing only a few dollars--can be used to spot forgeries or tampering with documents by illuminating the holograms (generally of government seals) found on licenses and passports. Screeners also are acquiring special magnifying glasses to highlight tiny inscriptions in the borders of passports and other identification documents. Roughly 2,100 of each are being made available to the 800 airport checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

This closer scrutiny of passenger IDs is the newest TSA effort to check passengers more thoroughly as they board aircraft. Over the last six months, the agency has been taking over the checking of passenger IDs and boarding passes at airport checkpoints. Previously, security guards who were hired by the airlines did that. "This is a significant security upgrade," TSA chief Kip Hawley says. Screeners are trained in spotting forged documents and will get some training in studying suspicious passenger behavior to pick out people who merit deeper scrutiny at the checkpoint, he says. TSA has taken over document-checking in around 400 of the 450 airports where it operates. It will take over the remaining 50 in the next few months, according to TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe.

The TSA screeners, unlike airline security guards, get daily briefings latest airport security concerns. More than 40 passengers have been arrested since June 2007 in cases where TSA screeners spotted altered resident ID cards, passports, fraudulent visas, and forged driver's licenses. Many of them were arrested on various immigration charges. "That's the kind of resources the TSA can devote to the document-checking that the airlines didn't," says David Castelveter of the Air Transport Association, a trade group of major U.S. airlines.

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