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US unveils air traveler plan

Firms will check fliers' background

WASHINGTON -- Airline passengers who buy a pre-approved security pass could have their credit histories and property records examined as part of the government's plan to turn over the Registered Traveler program to private companies.

In announcing the new plan yesterday, the Transportation Security Administration said the Registered Traveler card would allow frequent fliers to go through airport security lines more quickly if they pay a fee, pass a government background check, and submit 10 fingerprints. The program will begin June 20.

The agency announced that it would require companies to conduct more in-depth security background checks, for example, ''by using commercial data specifically authorized by customers, or by other voluntary means."

TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said the agency wanted to be able to identify terrorists who weren't already known to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

Companies interested in the business of Registered Traveler were surprised by the requirement for additional kinds of background checks.

''This would have to be measured against the commitment to privacy," said Tom Blank, spokesman for the newly formed Voluntary Credentialing Industry Coalition, who was formerly acting deputy director of the TSA. He said the group will analyze the new requirement.

Carter Morris, who heads a group of 60 airports advocating the Registered Traveler program, said it remains to be seen whether the requirement will hamper it.

''It's a little early to say whether the whole program hangs in the balance," Morris said. ''The vendors are worried that it adds cost to their business model."

TSA chief Kip Hawley has said the program's benefits could include passengers not having to take their shoes or coats off or removing their laptops from their cases.

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