TSA may install devices at airports to detect and track personal gadgets

The Transportation Security Administration is said to be considering installing bluetooth sensors at US airports to sniff out personal electronic equipment and track its movement—and by extension, the movement of the human carrying it. USA Today reports that "the aim is to track how long people are stuck in security lines," and that wait time data could then be posted on websites and inside airports.

tsa.jpgThe TSA is in the early phases of exploring the technology, which Purdue University researchers tested for a month last year at Indianapolis International Airport. Thumbnail-size receivers near checkpoints detected serial numbers emitted by some electronic devices being carried by passengers. The receivers recorded the time when a passenger entered a security line and the time when the same passenger cleared the checkpoint, Purdue transportation engineer Darcy Bullock said. Only part of each serial number was recorded, and the numbers were quickly deleted, he said.

Some electronic devices automatically broadcast, or "chirp," their serial number every 15-20 seconds when they are turned on. People can set their devices so they don't broadcast. Bullock found he could detect signals from 6% to 10% of Indianapolis passengers. "We sit there and listen, capturing the unique identifier," Bullock said.

Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said Bullock's current system minimizes privacy risk by recording partial serial numbers. But he worries that could change.

The TSA says a few European airports are already using systems like this, and that London's Heathrow Airport plans to start soon. Absolutely nothing about this could possibly go wrong!

Airport device follows fliers' phones (USA Today)

[Image: "Remember how it felt to feel safe?," a Creative Commons licensed photograph by Flickr user Ko:(char *)hook]