Nov. 4, 2005 – A plan to allow travelers to bypass the most intrusive airport security provisions by paying a fee, providing fingerprints or other biological identification and submitting to background checks came under attack from civil liberties groups this week as Congress prepares to give the program final approval.
Under the Transportation Security Administrationâ€™s Registered Traveler Program, participantsâ€™ information will be compiled and processed by a yet-to-be-named private company, according to the TSA. In exchange for submitting to the pre-approval process, fliers will be permitted to skip out on random body searches and other airport security measures. The required fee has not been decided on.
Yesterday, TSA head Kip Hawley presented the preliminary plan to the House Homeland Security subcommittee. Hawley intends to implement the program nationally on June 20. It is currently in a pilot stage at five airports.
Under plans laid out before Congress, private companies would be responsible for enrolling participants and issuing identification cards. The federal government would handle background checks.
In an unusual line of argument for the group, the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned that the program will make the nation less secure. In a statement, the ACLU also said the program could inadvertently make participants subject to private company machinations.
"Members of a terrorist sleeper cell could obtain false identification and become registered travelers, using the lessened security screening to evade detection and commit a terrorist act," ACLU lawyer Timothy Sparapani said in a statement. "Congress should not spend scarce homeland-security dollars on a program that makes us more vulnerable. And Congress should not support a program that draws a big bullâ€™s-eye on the private information of Americaâ€™s frequent travelers."
In testimony outlining problems with the program, Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg said the passenger pre-screening process was "fatally flawed" and recommended sending the TSA back to the drawing board.
Rotenberg said the proposal was fraught with privacy issues and possibilities of inaccuracies. The information used to determine peopleâ€™s security status will be based, in part, on current government watch lists, which have been shown to include individuals with no links to terrorism.
Additionally, Rotenberg pointed out, the databases used for Registered Traveler are not subject to Privacy Act provisions meant to safeguard individuals from government misuse of their personal information.
Transportation officials are considering expanding the freedoms afforded under the program to include special passenger screening lanes and permitting registered flyers to leave their shoes and jackets on when going through security checkpoints, the AP reported.