TSA to roll out Registered Traveler sites

The Homeland Security Department's Transportation Security Administration today announced that it plans to begin rolling out its Registered Traveler program at 10 to 20 airports in the second half of this year.

The program is intended to allow travelers who have agreed to background checks to move through airport screening points faster. TSA conducted a Registered Traveler pilot project last year at five airports. The agency ended four of the pilots as planned at the end of fiscal 2005, but the Orlando program continued as a public-private partnership.

The airports will begin to offer Registered Traveler services as private sector operators forge agreements with host airports, and TSA grants security approval to affected air carriers.

TSA noted in a press release issued today that it plans a phased approach to assure that the private RT operators maintain system interoperability across airports. TSA also will be evaluating the effect of different checkpoint procedures on screening- and wait-times.

The agency seeks to roll out the Registered Traveler program nationwide next year.

"Security will be maintained, the program will be paid for by the private sector, and it will not disadvantage the general public when they fly," said Kip Hawley, assistant secretary for TSA.

The department has ironed out a basic business model for the Registered Traveler project, which includes among other features a Transportation Security Clearinghouse managed by the American Association of Airport Executives.

At some checkpoints, Registered Traveler program participants could go through a special lane, TSA said. Program specialists suggested that TSA might approve the use of backscatter technology for RT participants.

Backscatter technology provides a more accurate evaluation of whether a person is carrying weapons or other banned objects than magnetometers, but its use has stalled because of a earlier outcry over the way it effectively "sees" through clothing.

Screening specialists contend that backscatter technology originally was developed to eliminate the need for body cavity checks and that it can quickly detect metal pins in bones and similar medical devices that do not pose a risk.

Program participants will establish their identity via biometric measures such as the iris scanning equipment used at some of the pilot sites and via fingerprints needed for the background checks.

TSA will check program participants against FBI databases of wants and warrants and other federal databases of terrorist risk, an agency spokesman said.

TSA said it would conduct random checks to foil abuses of the Registered Traveler program.

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