Certain fliers could get fast track at airport

November 04, 2005|By NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- Government officials said yesterday that they plan to offer airline passengers the opportunity to avoid long lines and extra security checks at airports around the country, if they are willing to pay a fee - as yet undetermined - clear a voluntary background check and have their fingers and eyes digitally scanned.

Long aware that passengers become increasingly frustrated over lengthy lines at airports, Kip Hawley, director of the Transportation Security Administration, told a congressional committee yesterday that the agency plans to move ahead with a program called Registered Traveler.

"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 bypass pat-down 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 Washington, Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Houston.

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

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, said an inordinate amount of trust is being put into biometric devices, which are not foolproof. Additionally, he said, applying for the program could allow terrorists to learn whether they are on a government-watch list.

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