The TSA has published a formal request for information (.pdf) laying out a plan to outsource vetting of passengers who do not have ID when they present themselves at a security checkpoint.
In normal times about 600 passengers per day fly without any ID. Currently the government asks challenge questions to verify their identity through the Identity Verification Call Center.
They don’t think this scales, and when the federal government finally does enforce REAL ID requirements there could be a large number of people who do not have ID considered acceptable to TSA, but they need a process to still allow those people to fly. (The current projection is to begin enforcing REAL ID October 1, 2021.)
Papers, Please points out that this is a public admission,
- That people fly without ID all the time
- That will continue to be permitted even after REAL ID goes into effect at TSA checkpoints
Under the system the TSA is contemplating, a private contractor would develop an app to ask the traveler challenge questions based on both government and commercial data about the person. It would then produce a pass/fail to be shown at the TSA checkpoint.
Under this system if you don’t have a fully-charged smartphone with you at the airport, you wouldn’t be able to fly. Of course you might have lost or had your phone stolen at the same time as your wallet with ID inside.
Papers Please points out that TSA’s specifications include that the app has to ascertain that the SIM card hasn’t been swapped and isn’t being spoofed, and this capability may limit the number of phone operating systems that are acceptable as well (Will there be more than an Android and iPhone app?) and also that paying a third party contractor to collect information from travelers that it doesn’t itself receive serves as an end-run around the Administrative Procedures Act which imposes standards for government data collection as well as the Privacy Act.
Effectively then a fly/no fly decision for someone without an ID would be made by a contractor’s algorithm.