TSA takes first steps toward 'trusted travel' program
July 14, 2011 2:07 p.m. EDT
Washington (CNN) -- After hinting for months that he would start a "trusted traveler" program to expedite security screening for air passengers, TSA Chief John Pistole took his first step in that direction Thursday, announcing a pilot program to ease screening for passengers who voluntarily release certain information about themselves.
- TSA announces pilot program for "trusted travelers"
- Plan is to ease security screening for travelers who provide additional information
- If successful, the program would likely be expanded to more travelers
- The pilot program will begin this fall
The pilot test is based on U.S. customs programs and initially will be available only to certain participants in the customs program and a limited number of air travelers. Those include certain frequent fliers on two airlines -- American and Delta -- flying out of certain airports. Delta passengers must be flying out of Atlanta and Detroit airports, and American Airlines passengers must be flying out of Miami and Dallas airports.
But if it is successful, the program would likely be expanded to include other air travelers who voluntarily give additional information about themselves.
Currently, the TSA vets passenger lists against "watch lists" of known or suspected terrorists. But the TSA is working with a very limited amount of information about those passengers -- namely a person's full name, date of birth and gender. Under "trusted traveler" programs, travelers voluntarily surrender more information about themselves, giving the government more assurances of who they are.
In recent years, there has been a drumbeat of calls for the TSA to adopt a trusted traveler program. Congress and critics have stepped up that demand following two highly publicized incidents, one involving the search of a 6-year-old girl, and the other involving a 95-year-old cancer patient. In both case, the TSA has said the airport screeners were following established protocols.
But the TSA also has said it is working towards a "risk-based" trusted traveler program that could expedite travel for people believed to present little risk to aviation.
The pilot program will begin this fall.
"These improvements will enable our officers to focus their efforts on higher risk areas," Pistole said. "Enhancing identity-based screening is another common sense step in the right direction as we continue to strengthen overall security and improve the passenger experience whenever possible."
During the first phase of testing, certain frequent fliers and all members of Custom and Border Protection's Trusted Traveler programs, including Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS who are U.S. citizens, will be eligible to participate.
The TSA said it plans to expand this pilot program to include United, Southwest, JetBlue, US Airways, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian airlines, as well as additional airports, once operationally ready.
The TSA said Pistole will work with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin and the airlines to determine passenger eligibility for this screening pilot, which is limited to U.S. citizens and is voluntary.
All passengers in this pilot are subject to recurrent security checks.
Security experts have long expressed concern about so-called "clean skins" -- potential terrorists who enroll in "trusted traveler" programs to avoid scrutiny during a terror mission. But the TSA says it will continue to incorporate random and unpredictable security measures to address such concerns.
Pistole said other layers of security will remain in place, including intelligence gathering and analysis, explosive-detection canine teams, federal air marshals, closed-circuit television monitoring and behavior detection officers.