Government is turning to private companies to speed deployment of an EZ Pass-style system for travelers navigating airport security checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration recently gave the green light for Orlando International Airport to hire private companies to manage a program giving frequent fliers much quicker passage through security if they voluntarily undergo a background check and pay an annual fee.
The operators of the Registered Traveler program in Orlando are New York-based Verified Identity Pass, headed by entrepreneur Steven Brill and Maryland-based
Other airports are expected to hire contractors and develop similar systems soon, so that Registered Traveler participants eventually will be able to speed through airport security checkpoints across the nation. Boston's Logan International Airport, one of five airports participating in a more limited, government-run test of the concept at the American Airlines terminal, is likely to be one of the first airports to sign on.
Brill estimates at least 8 million frequent fliers nationally would find it advantageous to take the time to fill out the necessary forms and pay the annual fee to move through airport security checkpoints more quickly.
He said the TSA spent $5 million last year on its Registered Traveler program and is spending $15 million this year. The number of participants in the government tests has been capped at 10,000.
Brill founded Court TV and has written extensively about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Finding a terrorist in any public setting is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. One way to improve the odds, Brill says, is to make the haystack smaller by prescreening those individuals who are not considered security risks. Brill is starting with airports, but he has written that the concept would work equally well at railroad stations, bus terminals, even sporting events.
Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman, said a privatized prescreening operation would help her agency increase airport security at minimal cost to taxpayers.
''It allows our screeners to dedicate their attention and resources to passengers that need the additional scrutiny," Davis said.
Under Orlando's system, called Clear, anyone wishing to participate in the program must fill out an application, supplying a driver's license number, Social Security number, home addresses for the last five years, and other identifying information. The applicant also must stop by an enrollment station at the airport to have his or her picture taken and supply fingerprint and iris images.
Brill said the identifying information is sent to the TSA and run against its terrorist databases. If the traveler passes the screening, he or she is sent an identifying card that provides access to a special lane at the Orlando security checkpoint.
''We have our own line and our own checkpoint," Brill said.
Travelers must present their identifying card to Verified Identity Pass personnel and have their fingerprint or iris image checked to verify they are who they say they are. They then proceed through TSA security, where they and their carry-on bags are screened. They are not subject to random secondary screenings unless an alarm sounds.
In the past, the TSA has allowed airlines to give their first-class passengers quicker access to security but treated all passengers the same once they reach the checkpoints. Registered Travelers in Orlando not only get their own lane leading up to security but their own security checkpoint.
Carolyn Fennell, a spokeswoman for the Orlando airport, said that at least initially, other passengers will be directed to the security lane if it's not being used by Registered Travelers.
''It's more a designated lane than a dedicated lane," she said.
Contact Bruce Mohl at email@example.com.