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Air Travelers to Have Expedited-Security Option

The government plans to let passengers register for a low-level advance clearance, for a fee.

November 04, 2005|From Newsday

MELVILLE, N.Y. — Call it the E-Z Pass for air travelers.

Government officials said Thursday that they planned to offer airline passengers the opportunity to avoid long lines and extra security checks at airports around the United States, if the passengers were willing to pay an as-yet undetermined fee, clear a voluntary background check, and have their fingers and eyes digitally scanned.

Long aware that passengers have become increasingly frustrated over lengthy lines at airports, Transportation Security Administration Director Kip Hawley told a congressional committee Thursday that the agency would move ahead with its Registered Traveler program.

"We believe that a nationwide Registered Traveler program can provide expedited screening for many travelers and enhance aviation security as well," Hawley said in a statement.

Passengers would receive a low-level federal security clearance after undergoing a background check, an eye scan and fingerprinting.

At an airport terminal, their identity would be verified by a biometric kiosk.

They would still have to walk through a metal detector, and their bags would be screened.

But if they or their bags did not set off any alarms, they would then be free of patdown searches or secondary screenings.

TSA officials said the program would reduce wait time for everyone because airport screeners would be able to focus more on other passengers.

The TSA in late September concluded a 14-month test of Registered Traveler at airports in Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Houston.

"I can say that 95% of the participants said that the system was very easy to use," and 98% supported future use, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.

A similar privately run program continues to operate at the airport in Orlando, Fla.

But some security experts and civil-rights advocates reacted with alarm.

The director of the Washington-based website GlobalSecurity.org, John E. Pike, said too much trust was being put into biometric devices.

Additionally, he said, applying for the program could allow terrorists to learn whether they are on a government watch list.

The American Civil Liberties Union's legislative counsel, Tim Sparapani, said the system would not stop terrorists who came into this country and established themselves with driver's licenses and other types of identification.

Sparapani said the ACLU wanted stricter screening of baggage.

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