Is your Facebook profile enough to prove your ID?

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One thing synonymous with air travel is declaring your identity, usually in the form of a passport or citizen ID card, depending on the country and other factors.

In some countries, you can manage just fine with a driving license (a de facto ID document in many places), residency permit for foreigners, or a multitude of means of proving your identity.

But would a social networking profile be an approved method of substantiating your identity? Facebook, for instance?

The Drum reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the US government agency responsible for security at places like airports – has accepted sight of a traveller’s Facebook profile as an approved form of ID.

The news emerged after Twitter user @ZachKlein tweeted his experience on 22 December. [...] “Got to the airport, realized I left my ID at home. TSA allowed me to use my Facebook profile instead,” he tweeted.

According to the Drum’s report, the TSA says it will accept identification in lieu of other more traditional forms of ID from “publicly available databases.” And the TSA says this clearly on its website in the page entitled ‘Acceptable IDs‘:

We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases.

The web page doesn’t explicitly mention Facebook. But the question does arise – is this a new policy or just an individual decision by a TSA employee at one particular airport in how he or she interpreted the meaning of “publicly available databases”?

Another question is: what does it say about Facebook as a place of supposed privacy if a government agency sees it as a publicly-available database?

The possibility of using a social network profile for an ID purpose like this wouldn’t immediately occur to me. But when I think of it, I wonder: why not? If you set your profile to be visible publicly, doesn’t it qualify it as being on a “publicly available database”?

On the face of it, using digital information like a database of personal information to verify someone’s identity makes a lot of sense. It’s efficient, it doesn’t require you to carry bits of plastic or paper, undoubtedly it’s more cost effective, and more secure.

If you trust the end-to-end process of doing this, then it’s not a big step to imagine such digital information about you being used in many other areas where ID verification is required. Think of international air travel where a passport currently is an essential ID to show no matter what other form of ID you may have.

It’s also not hard to project that thought out to iris scanning or facial recognition as a way to verify ID, where no other form of ID is required. That’s not a new idea at all. Indeed, I remember making use of iris-scan recognition for entry to The Netherlands when I lived in Amsterdam a decade ago – no need to show a passport when arriving (or departing) on an international flight.

But all that’s the logic. The emotional aspect of it is a dark place given the absolute lack of trust many people have with regard to governments and personal information. Just ask Edward Snowden.

Still, if it helps makes air travel (for instance) a simpler, easier, safer and more pleasant experience, I like the idea.

I’d be willing to consider it. Would you?