More growing pains
Contractors can help DHS smooth wrinkles in trusted-traveler programs
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Jun 26, 2008
Unisys Corp. executive Bryan Ichikawa has an
insider's knowledge of biometrics. He has also
spent a lot of time standing in line at U.S. airports
when returning from overseas.
From both perspectives, he sees promise ?
and challenges ? for the Homeland Security
Department's new Global Entry program,
which prescreens travelers returning to the
United States and uses fingerprint biometrics
to verify identity.
Global Entry has strong potential for
growth, but industry executives and policy
experts say there are unresolved issues regarding
its integration with other trusted-traveler
programs, privatization, privacy and information
On a personal level, however, the appeal of
Global Entry is obvious.
"The passport control lines are long, and it
would be great to get through the lines more
quickly," said Ichikawa, solutions architect and
chief engineer of Unisys' domestic registered
traveler program at the Reno/Tahoe
International Airport in Nevada. FLO Corp.
recently bought the business
unit, but Unisys continues to
provide services under an agreement.
Global Entry debuted as a pilot program
June 6 at George Bush Intercontinental
Airport in Houston, John F. Kennedy
International Airport in New York and
Washington Dulles International Airport.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents can
apply for the pilot program by submitting
biographical information and fingerprints,
undergoing a background investigation, and
meeting with a Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) officer.
Once enrolled, travelers are
eligible for expedited processing at participating
When returning to the United States,
Global Entry travelers can use a kiosk at the
airport to submit a passport or permanent resident
card to be read electronically, present
fingerprints for scanning and make customs
declarations. Travelers pay $100 to participate
in Global Entry for five years.
DHS officials have said they intend to
expand Global Entry to the 20 airports in the
Model Port program, but they have not
released a schedule or final rule. They said
they also hope to integrate some of its features
with the Nexus and Sentri border-crossing
identification card programs for Canadians
and Mexicans.AMPLE OPPORTUNITIES
In May, CBP signed an agreement with the
government of the Netherlands to develop a
process to integrate Global Entry with the Dutch Privium program for trusted travelers.
U.S. government officials have said talks are
also under way with other countries.
Industry experts view such international
programs as a major opportunity that could
be on par with the domestic Registered
Traveler program. Projections suggest that as
many as 10 million frequent travelers in the
United States could voluntarily participate in
such programs in the next several years, generating
a global market of as much as $1 billion
"There are lots of opportunities in this
space," said Charles Simon, senior vice president
of public policy at Verified Identity Pass
Inc., which runs Registered Traveler at 16
airports. "It's a competitive market."
"International Registered Traveler is a
great opportunity long term," said Luke
Thomas, executive vice president of strategy
One promising area is exploring whether
and how Global Entry could integrate with
the domestic Registered Traveler program,
which has been in existence since 2005.
Initially, it operated at a handful of airports,
but in the past year, it has expanded dramatically.
About 180,000 registered travelers
and 18 airports participate, with airports in
Atlanta, Baltimore and Louisville, Ky.,
expected to join the program soon.
Many Registered Traveler participants will
want to join Global Entry, Simon said.
If travelers pass the stringent background
checks needed for Global Entry, they also
ought to be accepted into the domestic program,
C. Stewart Verdery, a former DHS official
who now is a government relations consultant
to the National Business Travel
Association through his firm Monument
Policy Group, agreed. He said people
enrolling in Global Entry will likely join the
domestic program. But because the
Transportation Security Administration's
background checks are not as stringent as
those for Global Entry, there are not the
same opportunities for enrollments in the
other direction, he added.
Even so, there might be integration opportunities.
"We are looking into integration [of
Global Entry] with Registered Traveler," said
Valerie Isbell, executive director of CBP's
Passenger Systems Program Office. "There is
some overlap."PRIVATIZATION OPTION
A related question is whether Global Entry
might eventually be privatized, as the
Registered Traveler program was. With TSA's
oversight, private companies handle enrollment,
marketing, biometric capture and
storage, in addition to issuing identification
cards. TSA performs the background checks.
Once enrolled, travelers have access to a designated
lane and expedited service for security
CBP is handling all the enrollment, marketing,
and biometric capture and verification
for Global Entry. The kiosks were configured,
upgraded and installed at the three
test airports under an existing contract with
Computer Sciences Corp., Isbell said. There
could be a need for more kiosks and datacenter
capacity in the future, she added.
CBP has no plans to privatize Global
Entry, said agency spokeswoman Joanne
However, Simon and others are encouraging
the agency to consider doing so. "The
underlying principle is the same," he said.
Even so, the outlook for privatization is
mixed. "There is no logical reason that the
private sector, which does [Registered
Traveler], couldn't leverage that platform for
international registered travelers," said
Jeremy Grant, a senior vice president at
investment research firm Stanford Group Co.
But it seems doubtful that CBP would be
willing to outsource something as critical as
background checks, he added.
Verdery said he does not believe full privatization
of Global Entry is likely, but marketing
and enrollment functions could be outsourced
A bigger question is how Global Entry will
handle technology integration with Registered
Traveler and programs in other countries,
Ichikawa said. For example, Privium
uses iris verification rather than fingerprints.
Such interoperability issues are best dealt
with upfront, before making major technology
investments, he added.
Experts say some of the privacy issues,
especially for sharing personal data internationally,
are even more complex.
"You are talking about sharing biographic
and biometric information across governments,"
Ichikawa said. "That is a different
The Electronic Privacy Information Center
has called attention to the potential for privacy
loss under Registered Traveler, whose
identification cards contain encrypted biometric
information. In the case of Global
Entry, the biometric information is stored in
DHS' Automated Biometric Identification
System database, Isbell said.
"Our fingerprints database is very secure,"
Overall, industry executives say they are
expecting Global Entry enrollments to
progress slowly at first and then pick up
speed, similar to Registered Traveler. For
more than a year, that program operated only
at Orlando International Airport. Since early
2007, it has expanded to 18 airports.
"Once you get the international Registered
Traveler [program] rolled out to more entry
points, you'll see significant growth," Verdery
said. "There's a high level of excitement about
it."Alice Lipowicz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
staff writer at Washington Technology.washingtontechnology.com.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.