Posing Problems For PreCheck: Smartphones Can Scan Boarding Pass Barcodes

You’ve lost that random feeling, ohh that random feeling, now it’s gone… gone… gone. Security experts say a flaw in airline boarding passes that allows their barcodes to be scanned with smartphones makes the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck system not very useful. If PreCheck passengers can scan their barcodes ahead of time and see if they’ll be screened routinely or

If passengers can scan their boarding passes ahead of time to see if they’ll get expedited screening with PreCheck or face a routine screening, then a person could potentially bring dangerous things with them, says a security analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. PreCheck passengers can leave shoes and belts on and keep small containers of liquid in their bags when going through security checkpoints.

When a boarding pass is scanned at home, a traveler could see a 3, which means they’ll qualify for PreCheck at the airport, or a 1, which means regular screening.

“If people can verify their PreCheck status at home 24 hours before the flight, the randomness is gone,” the analyst tells USA Today. “The randomness needs to occur the moment you are in line, when it’s too late to swap bags with your colleague or it’s too late to throw something in the trash.”

But the TSA says it’s not like PreCheck is the only protection it has against potential terrorists in its bag of tricks, so the barcode scan thing shouldn’t matter. For example, metal detectors, full-body scanners, X-rayed bags and other means it’s not going to talk about because then someone could circumvent those measures.

“TSA does not comment on specifics of the screening process, which contain measures both seen and unseen,” the agency said in a statement. “In addition, TSA incorporates random and unpredictable security measures throughout the traveling process. We continue to explore and implement additional mitigation measures to prevent the manipulation of boarding passes and are working with the airlines to enhance existing security systems, programs and methods to prevent illegal tampering.”

It’s also worthing noting that not all PreCheck passengers get to cruise through security lines, as the TSA employs random selection even with those travelers to keep everything uncertain until the last moment.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. is all in favor of the PreCheck program but adds that for it to be effective, it can’t be compromised.

“This has the potential to be a gaping flaw in the system that would be all too easy to exploit,” Schumer says. “At the very least, if someone is flagged for a random screening, that information should be encrypted.”

Flaw seen in TSA boarding-pass security [USA Today]