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Saturday, January 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Airport security fast lane inches closer to reality

WASHINGTON — Private companies want to make money selling security passes at airports, but the government said Friday it wants them to improve security in the process.

Whether those two goals are compatible remains to be seen.

The government started testing the Registered Traveler card in five airports beginning in summer 2004. Now the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wants to turn the program over to private companies.

On Friday, the TSA said the Registered Traveler program it envisions would let frequent fliers go through airport security lines more quickly if they pay a fee, pass a government background check and submit 10 fingerprints. The program is expected to be rolled out gradually beginning June 20.

But the TSA also would like companies to offer more in-depth background checks. As an example, the agency said the companies could use commercial data, such as credit histories and property records, authorized by customers.

Carter Morris, who heads a group of 60 airports advocating the Registered Traveler program, said it is unclear whether that requirement will hamper it. "The vendors are worried that it adds cost to their business model," Morris said.

The TSA also said it wants companies to offer improved screening equipment for security checkpoints or to pay for more screeners, and will give the companies special screening lanes in exchange.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group for major U.S. carriers including AMR's American Airlines and UAL's United Airlines, told the TSA in a Jan. 9 letter that "the program should be discontinued." The group had been a proponent of the plan since the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"As currently envisaged by some proponents, the program would appear to serve more as a revenue-generating scheme than a security program that would benefit passengers," James May, the trade group's president, said in the letter.

Steven Brill is the media entrepreneur who heads Verified Identity Pass, a company that's running a test program at the airport in Orlando, Fla.

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The company charges $79.95 for the card, which allows cardholders to use a fast security lane at the airport.

Brill said the company wants to install a shoe scanner, a plate on the ground that travelers would stand on as they put their Registered Traveler card into a kiosk. The kiosk verifies their identity and the shoe scanner looks for explosives.

Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union said lines will grow longer for travelers who aren't in the program. The ACLU also said that terrorists could enroll in the program by using fake identities.

The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and USA Today contributed

to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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