Frequent travelers who submit biometric data and pass a background check at five airports soon will be able to move more quickly through security checkpoints at those airports as part of the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler pilot program.
Frequent fliers participating in the pilot test can pass through airport security checkpoints faster using a smart card with a biometric component — a unique identifier, such as a fingerprint or iris scan. TSA officials will kick off the program at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at the end of the month. They expect to enroll about 3,000 travelers at each of the five participating airports.
"TSA approached this pilot with the firm idea that security could not and would not be compromised," said David Stone, TSA's acting administrator. "And we believe that this pilot program will provide frequent travelers with the means to expedite the screening experience without compromising on security."
But to some in the electronic-privacy community, the test represents little more than an end run around the criticism of the controversial Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II.
"They're trying to take advantage of the public's frustration with travel by saying, 'If you give us enough information, we'll treat you better,'" said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Registered Traveler ranks among EPIC's 10 most-monitored security pilots, according to Rotenberg. Participants in the program must travel at least once a week in selected markets and provide TSA officials with their names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and biometric imprints, such as a fingerprint or iris scan. After passing a background check, volunteers will be enrolled in the program.
"A lot of the more serious security problems, including the inability to place adequate protection equipment in all the airports, still remain unresolved," said Rotenberg, who added that the people who would qualify for the pilot project are domestic travelers and likely to be low security risks to begin with.
TSA officials are "trying to find another way to launch the profiling of passengers," he said. "Since they failed with [CAPPS II], they think they can now get public support by relieving the burdens of traveling."
Two Virginia companies, Unisys Corp. and EDS, won 180-day contracts for the Registered Traveler test. Unisys, working with United Airlines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and Northwest Airlines, was selected to build and implement technology for the airports in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Houston for $2.47 million. EDS, working with American Airlines Inc., was assigned to airports in Boston and Washington, D.C., for $1.31 million.
"We have done this in the past, and we built a prototype and demonstrated it," said Jeff Planton, vice president of U.S. government solutions for EDS. "You'll always have physical implementation challenges because you don't know where in the airport you'll be given space to do this."
EDS has issued more than 5 million Common Access Cards for the Defense Department and is issuing similar cards at the Gaza Strip border control site for the Israeli government.