TSA tries biometric checks

Frequent travelers at five airports who submit biometric data and pass a background check will be able to breeze through security checkpoints as part of the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler Pilot program.

The program allows frequent fliers to move through airport security checkpoints more quickly using a smart card with a biometric component -- a unique identifier, such as a fingerprint or iris scan. TSA, which is kicking off the program at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport later this month, expects to enroll about 3,000 travelers per airport.

"TSA approached this pilot with the firm idea that security could not and would not be compromised," said TSA Acting Administrator David Stone. "And we believe that this pilot program will provide frequent travelers with the means to expedite the screening experience without compromising on security."

Those who participate in the pilot must travel at least once a week in selected markets and provide to TSA officials their name, address, phone number, date of birth and a biometric imprint, such as a finger and iris. After completing a background check, the volunteer will be enrolled in the pilot program.

Two Virginia-based companies, Unisys Corp. and EDS, won 180-day contracts for the TSA pilot. Unisys, working with United Airlines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and Northwest Airlines, was selected to implement technology for Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Houston for $2.47 million. EDS, working with American Airlines Inc., was assigned to airports in Boston and Washington, D.C., for $1.31 million.

"We have done this in the past and we built a prototype and demonstrated it," said Jeff Planton, vice president of U.S. government solutions for EDS. "You'll always have physical implementation challenges because you don't know where in the airport you'll be given space to do this."

EDS officials have done similar work in the past, including issuing more than 5 million common access cards for the Defense Department and doing similar work at the Gaza Strip border control site for the Israeli government.

The contract marks the third TSA award for Unisys in recent months. In November, Unisys won TSA's Airline Access Control Pilot Program to evaluate biometric technologies designed to bolster security for secure locations within airports. In August 2002, Unisys won a billion-dollar contract for performance-based information technology managed services.

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