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Give Up Privacy to Skip Airport Security Lines?

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Attention frequent fliers: Your dream of bypassing long security lines may soon be a reality at airports across the country. But you will have to let the feds scan not only your background, but your iris too. And you'll have to give up prints of your index fingers.

Working with the American Association of Airport Executives, several airports around the country, from San Francisco International to Port Columbus International, hope to expand the federal Registered Traveler program already in operation. The newly formed Registered Traveler Interoperability Consortium wants to create a nationally recognized program that would allow frequent fliers, such as business travelers, to experience a more efficient trip, no matter where it originates.

"If you sign up as a Registered Traveler in Washington, D.C., you ought to be recognized as a Registered Traveler in Minneapolis or any other airport in the country," says Carter Morris, AAAE senior vice president. He says the group hopes to build on a foundation that the Transportation Security Administration has already established.
"We want this to be an industry-driven process that works with the government," Morris says. But he adds that security and efficiency would still be of utmost importance. And in light of recent increases in identity theft, he says, the key would be to create a national system where biometric identity transactions can be done securely.

Testing Grounds

Nearly a year ago, the TSA initiated a Registered Traveler pilot program at five airports around the country, including Minneapolis-St. Paul International, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, Los Angeles International, Boston Logan International, and Washington's Reagan National.

According to TSA spokesperson Deirdre O'Sullivan, each program was limited to 2000 participants who were willing to provide personal data for a background check, fingerprints, and biometric data. But approved passengers could use expedited security screening privileges only at their home airports.

This month, an additional TSA-approved pilot program, the Clear Registered Traveler, launched at Orlando International airport. This program is unique because it is a private-public partnership: Verified Identity Pass contracts with the airport directly to provide the technology, and the federal government provides the background checks. The TSA conducts those checks free of charge, but there is a $79.95 annual fee to cover the costs of the technology. More than 4000 travelers have had their applications approved. O'Sullivan noted that currently the TSA pilot programs and the Orlando private-public partnership programs are scheduled to continue only through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

At that time, the TSA says, it will evaluate the pilot programs to see what the next move should be. The AAAE is hoping to see the feature go national.

By Lesley K. McCullough
Medill News Service

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