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Airport Crowds

Photo ID checks for domestic passengers are literally a waste of time

By Anthony Bergin

There's been serious discussion among senior government figures that travellers could be forced to show photo identification before boarding domestic flights.

Mr Turnbull last week said the government had to be "constantly upgrading and improving our security services". Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed photo ID checks, as has the Australian Airline Pilots Association.

At the moment Australia's domestic air passengers aren't required to show photo identification in order to check in and board an aircraft.

In the past we've heard of state police concerns that individuals involved in serious and organised crime were regularly travelling under assumed identities. This made it difficult for police to adequately investigate the movement of persons of interest.

It's not clear if any proposed identity checks should be undertaken by a government official, or perhaps if you don't have photo identification travellers might be required to sign a statutory declaration confirming their identity.

To date we haven't seen any real cost benefit analysis that would support such a measure. It's hard to see how such a measure would deter a terrorist, although it may assist in tracking one after any security incident; arguably this could be done using video camera footage from airports. It's a requirement that obviously isn't likely to worry a suicide bomber.

For the police, having passengers present photo identification may assist in tracking criminals across state borders rather than contribute directly to enhancing aviation safety. If it's warranted for planes, what about interstate buses and rail as well? For these benefits to be realised, connectivity between airline check in staff and police and security databases will need to be achieved.

But photo identification won't really help identify people who want to hide their true identity. Such a measure may in fact only encourage a greater trade in bogus identification documents and so expand the capabilities of organised criminals or wannabe jihadis.

The measure will be of only limited benefit for law enforcement and almost no benefit for aviation safety and security. It will, however, introduce additional delays at airports and so add to the inconvenience of travellers.

There are practical problems too. We don't have a national identification card in Australia. Not everyone has a driver's licence or passport. The current airline booking system is designed to encourage the reduction of costs by online bookings and self check-in in at terminals. Requiring photo identification to be checked by a government official or airline staff will add significant costs for the airlines. This will be just passed on to travellers.

We should be moving much more to a risk-based approach to aviation security rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach. For frequent flyers, why not introduce lighter security checks and allow security officers to focus on the non frequent flyer? Or introduce biometric check-in capabilities, as is being tested at Dallas Fort Worth domestic airport?

The relatively small number of people who undertake the bulk of the flying shouldn't be required to undertake the same security checks as other flyers.

The current uniform approach doesn't produce better security; it just inconveniences regular customers and undermines security by dissipating limited security assets.

Anthony Bergin is senior research fellow, ANU's National Security College and senior analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Originally published by: The Age on 07 Aug 2017