Effort to Speed Airport Security Is Going Private

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Wed Jan 12 13:39:56 PST 2005


The Wall Street Journal

      January 12, 2005

Effort to Speed
 Airport Security
 Is Going Private
Move Aims to Expand Program
 That Preregisters People
 Who Travel Frequently

January 12, 2005; Page D1

The Homeland Security Department, under pressure to jump-start a program
allowing select preregistered travelers to speed through airport security,
is turning to the private sector for help.

The Registered Traveler program gives frequent air passengers access to
special security lines, provided they first voluntarily undergo criminal
and terrorist background checks. In exchange, they get a biometric
identification card -- containing a fingerprint and other personal data --
and access to the shorter lines. The program has generally received
favorable reviews from volunteers and the three-month trial has been
extended indefinitely.

There is just one problem: The pilot program, currently administered by the
department's Transportation Security Administration, is offered at only
five airports for just 10,000 volunteers. This means that Registered
Travelers can use their cards only at their home airports and nowhere else.
TSA's pace at expanding the test into a national program has, so far, been
the biggest complaint.

The slow introduction has prompted interest from some businesses, who
believe that travelers would be willing to pay to participate in the
program. Interested entrepreneurs include Steven Brill, who started
American Lawyer magazine and Court TV and, after writing a book on Sept.
11, decided to get into the homeland-security business.

In a plan set to be unveiled in coming weeks, TSA officials will lay out
some details of a privately operated Registered Traveler pilot program at
Orlando International Airport. The success of the pilot, expected to begin
by the end of March, could determine the future of the Registered Traveler
program and be a model for expanding it nationally.

Mr. Brill and others have been pushing for TSA to privatize the program,
saying that businesses are better equipped than the government to market
and expand it, especially because some travelers have indicated that they
would pay annual fees -- as much as $100 -- for faster screening.

TSA officials agree, believing that passengers, not taxpayers, should fund
Registered Traveler, because it is likely to be used by business people
rather than leisure travelers. Homeland Security officials are eager to see
it move forward. TSA has had some false starts in other initiatives, and it
has taken knocks for long lines and intrusive pat-down searches.

But privacy advocates, who have already voiced concern about the
government-run pilot programs, are even more worried now that TSA is
turning to the private sector.

EXPRESS LINE How expedited security works in five pilot programs:

Who's eligible: 10,000 frequent- flier club members; enrollment closed

What they provide: Fingerprint, iris scan, personal data

What they get: Biometric ID card

What they have to do at airport: Open laptop, remove keys, coins.

What they don't have to do: Join leisure travelers for random screening.

They complain that Homeland Security officials routinely publish privacy
guidelines too vague to give the public a real understanding of how
personal data are handled. A privatized system could exacerbate the
problem, says Marcia Hoffman, staff counsel of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center, a Washington nonprofit organization.

TSA sees private-sector involvement as a route to faster growth. "We're
trying to encourage as much private sector participation as possible," says
Justin Oberman, a TSA official in charge of both Registered Traveler and
its more controversial sister-project, Secure Flight, a computerized
prescreening system that will replace a system currently run by the

Plans to run the privatized pilot in Orlando were publicly disclosed in
October, when AirTran Airways, a unit of Orlando-based AirTran Holdings
Inc., said it would participate in the program. But efforts between TSA and
the airport to reach terms on the pilot have dragged on.

One reason: TSA officials haven't decided whether to compile a master list
of Registered Travelers, which could be used to check passengers at all
participating airports, or allow private companies to maintain passenger
data in a universal format easily accessed by competitors.

The Orlando airport hasn't yet chosen a vendor to run its test, although
airport officials say they are in talks with Mr. Brill's New York-based
company, Verified Identity Pass Inc. Verified Identity would essentially
assume marketing responsibilities while its partners -- possibly including
Lockheed Martin Corp. -- would install scanners, process applications and
manufacture ID cards. TSA screeners, who are government employees, would
continue to staff the security lines.

Orlando officials say their program will be open to all passengers,
although they will likely first market it through airline frequent-flier
programs. But unlike the current test, which is free to volunteers
recruited through frequent-flier programs, the Orlando program will
eventually charge a fee. Some estimates put the cost to passengers at $50
to $100 annually.

"This is something people will voluntarily pay for at the right price,"
says Mr. Brill, who estimates the startup cost at between $500,000 and $1
million per airport.

Initially, one Registered Traveler lane would be installed at the airport's
east terminal, which serves Delta Air Lines Inc. and AirTran. Airport
officials would later add a lane in Orlando's other terminal and likely
open it to travelers on any airline.

Registered travelers are required to undergo the same security screening as
other passengers, but usually in separate lines. They have to do the same
basic things, such as empty their pockets of keys and other metal items or
take a laptop out of its case. But they aren't randomly chosen for extra
screening and must undergo secondary screening only if they set off a metal

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where 2,500 frequent
Northwest Airlines fliers are enrolled, from 130 to 180 registered
travelers use the special security lane daily, says Tim Anderson, deputy
executive director for airport operations. They can move through security
in as little as a few minutes.

There are other concerns about private sector involvement. Passengers could
grow so tired of being harassed at airport security checkpoints that they
will feel compelled to join the program, says Ms. Hoffman, of the
Electronic Privacy Information Center. "You worry that we'll get to a point
where Registered Traveler isn't so much voluntarily as necessary to get
through security with a minimum of hassle," she says.

On the privacy issue, TSA officials argue that they have written stringent
protections for private data and that the program is voluntary. "We'd have
less information about you than American Express or the airlines," Mr.
Brill says.

As long as the program is voluntary, and offers separate lines and shorter
wait times, many will be willing to sacrifice on personal privacy, predicts
Bill Connors, executive director of the National Business Travel
Association and a registered traveler participant. "There are a lot of
people who'd be up for it," he says.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list