DHS readies smart cards for Registered Traveler

Establishing formats for frequent flier smart cards, as well as the readers and biometric data storage for the cards, that are interoperable between vendors is one challenge for contractors interested in operating the Homeland Security Department's nationwide Registered Traveler program.

Registered Traveler, which has been operating with about 20,000 enrollees in pilot projects at several airports, is set to roll out nationwide June 20. The Transportation Security Administration is seeking contractor ideas on possible business models and technology for the program by Jan. 30.

Interested travelers can sign up for Registered Traveler at airports, pay a fee of about $80, enroll 10 fingerprints, undergo a terrorist watchlist check and possibly a criminal background check, and receive a smart card containing their biometric information. In return, the travelers may use the smart cards for speedier processing through security checkpoints at airports and may avoid having to remove shoes, coats or laptop PCs, according to the TSA's questions and answers about the program posted Jan. 20.

In the pilot phase, the airports' Registered Traveler programs were not interoperable with each other: Smart cards issued by one airport could not be used at other airports. TSA wants the national Registered Traveler program to be interoperable among domestic airports; eventually, it may need to be interoperable among international airports and possibly land ports along the Canadian and Mexico borders, according to TSA documents.

Prospective vendors have until April 20 to submit a plan to TSA on how they would achieve interoperability for Registered Traveler, the agency announced Jan. 20.

The interoperability requirement is not expected to be a major roadblock, but it does present hurdles in gaining cooperation among groups of vendors to apply a single common standard, according to Raj Nanavati, partner with International Biometrics Group LLC, a New York consulting firm.

"There is not a particular technical difficulty in doing it," Nanavati said. "It's just a question of people who are doing a commercial launch agreeing in a setting where government is not providing funding -- to have to coordinate with others creating a commercial launch. There are issues to that."

Nonetheless, "everyone is motivated to get it done," Nanavati said.
A newly formed organization, the Voluntary Credentialing Industry Coalition, expects to advise TSA on Registered Traveler. Members include ImageWare Systems Inc., Arinc, GE Security, Iridian Technologies Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Panasonic, Saflink Corp. and Verified Identity Pass Inc.
The coalition's leader is Tom Blank, vice chairman of Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates of Washington, and former acting deputy administrator at TSA.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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