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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Trusted travelers screening expedited

By Thomas Frank
USA Today


ORLANDO, Fla. — The federal government will allow more airports to contract with private companies to administer its program of expedited security screening of trusted travelers.

Justin Oberman, assistant chief of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, said yesterday that the government's Registered Traveler program will "move a lot faster" with companies — not the government — running it.

Registered Traveler allows people who have passed background checks to enter a special line at airport checkpoints. They go through a metal detector but are exempt from additional screening unless they set off an alarm.

Oberman made the comments at the launch of Orlando's Registered Traveler program, the first operated by a private company. The TSA has yet to commit to a large-scale program, but Oberman said contractors will play a prominent role in any expansion.

"We're delighted for the private sector to take the lead," he said.

Companies would charge a fee to collect a traveler's background information and send it to the TSA to check for terrorist links, criminal warrants or immigration violations.

A year-old TSA test of Registered Traveler has been limited to 10,000 enrollees at five airports — Boston, Washington Reagan National, Houston Bush, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. The TSA had been considering whether it should continue to run the program or turn it over to airports and airlines that team with marketing and technology companies.

At Orlando, nearly 4,000 people have paid $80 to enroll for a year with Verified Identity Pass, a Manhattan-based startup that the airport hired last month.

The company gives TSA-approved members of its "Clear" program a plastic card embedded with a microchip that stores a fingerprint and an image of the iris of their eye.

A member can go to either of Orlando's two checkpoints and slide that card into a kiosk, then press a finger onto an electronic print reader or look into a mirror for an iris scan.

If the iris or the fingerprint match the biometric record, the traveler goes through a reserved security line.

Company president Steven Brill said he expects his Clear program to start operating in another airport in two or three months, although he did not name any specific location.

Brill said numerous airports could join within a year, now that the TSA has decided to let the company offer Registered Traveler.

"Airports now have the signal to make their own proposals," Brill said.