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Newsday November 3, 2005

Traveler program hoped to take off

By James Bernstein

Call it the E-Z Pass for air travelers.

Government officials said Thursday 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 then be free of 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, D.C., Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Houston.

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

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

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

John Pike, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Web site 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.

Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the system would not stop terrorists who come into this country and establish themselves with drivers' licenses and other types of identity. Sparapani said the ACLU wants stricter baggage screening.


Copyright 2005, Newsday Inc.