Registered Traveler program revs for takeoff

TSA to issue draft standards, though interoperability questions remain

The Homeland Security Department's Transportation Security Administration is filling the IT gaps in its Registered Traveler program, which it plans to roll out at up to 20 airports by year's end.

TSA last month outlined the Registered Traveler model. The program is intended to let travelers who have agreed to background checks move through airport screening points more quickly.

TSA conducted temporary Registered Traveler pilots last year at airports in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and the Washington area.

Orlando tryout

A privately sponsored Registered Traveler program in Orlando, Fla., that relies on TSA for background checks reportedly has attracted more than 15,000 users. The Orlando program uses technology from Verified Identity Pass Inc. of New York.

In addition to outlining the program's IT component, the model clarifies the roles and functions of the various organizations that would jointly run the operation.

The new model confirms TSA's plans to issue additional draft technical standards for the program and begin a competitive procurement for support services later this month. TSA plans to propose Registered Traveler regulations later this year that would evolve, through a comment period, into a final rule.

The agency has invited public comments on its draft plan, which covers such topics as the program's Central Information Management System as well as card production and issuance, the data transfer and storage model, and privacy controls on the biometric and biographic data in the system.

Some prospective vendors already have expressed their doubts about the program.
William Ritz, public relations manager for EDS Corp.'s U.S. Government Solutions in Herndon, Va., said, 'EDS is looking at airport opportunities selectively. However, some challenges and uncertainty remain to be worked through, such as liability issues, interoperability among airports, standards and funding.'

A more positive outlook came from Larry Zmuda, partner for homeland security in Unisys Corp.'s Federal Government Group. He expects the program could attract 25,000 to 50,000 participants at each airport. 'A national program could get you 2 to 3 million people if it is implemented at more than 20 airports.'

However, like Ritz, Zmuda noted the need for the Registered Traveler program to mesh with other federal credentialing projects, such as TSA's Transportation Worker Identification Card and the administration's Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 identification initiative.

'This is the interoperability problem that will affect Registered Traveler's interfaces with the [U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology] program and other border protection programs,' Zmuda added.

In the Registered Traveler pilot, which enrolled some 20,000 participants, credentials issued at different airports weren't compatible with one another.

The program model details the various entities involved:
  • Enrollment providers, the organizations that collect biographic and biometric information from would-be trusted travelers and issue cards to participants

  • Registered Traveler applicants

  • Registered Traveler participants, people who have been cleared and identified as trusted travelers

  • Service providers, a collective term for enrollment providers and verification providers

  • Sponsoring entities such as airports or airlines

  • Transportation security officers, formerly called screeners

  • TSA itself

  • Verification providers, the organizations that check the identity of trusted travelers as they pass through an airport. Verification providers may also be enrollment providers.

The business model also covers the flow of funds from the applicants via the enrollment providers to other organizations in the program that incur costs.

TSA would provide a gateway to federal databases such as the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and other government systems that hold terrorist and criminal data.

The agency would receive about $30 from each enrollment fee to pay for the background checks. Registered Traveler enrollment fees in the pilots and the planned full-scale project fall in the range of $75 to $100.

Program participants establish their identity via fingerprint checks that TSA will require for one-to-many searches across federal databases.

The enrollment providers also have the option to collect applicants' iris scans for one-to-one identity checks at airports.

Program specialists have suggested that TSA might approve the use of 'backscatter' technology to screen participants for weapons and other contraband.

X-ray question

Backscatter, which uses X-rays, is more accurate than magnetometers in evaluating whether a person is carrying banned objects, but its use has languished because of concerns about the way it '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.

TSA plans a phased approach for Registered Traveler to assure that private program operators maintain system interoperability across airports. The agency also will be evaluating the effect of different checkpoint procedures on screening and delays.
The agency seeks to roll out the 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.

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