TSA aims to put airlines on Secure Flight

All domestic airlines should be taking part in the Secure Flight passenger screening system sometime next year, a Homeland Security Department official said today.

Secure Flight will start soon and gradually bring all domestic air carriers on board by early 2005, said Justin Oberman, assistant administrator at DHS' Office of Transportation Vetting and Credentialing. TSA officials are currently checking the system's ability to vet test names from June against watchlists, Oberman said, speaking this afternoon at FCW Events' Homeland Security conference. FCW Events is part of FCW Media Group, which owns Federal Computer Week and FCW.com.

"We are stress testing the system on many levels," Oberman said, adding that the Thanksgiving holiday is an extremely busy travel period. "I think the use of commercial data is going to be very illuminating. It will probably be the largest test of its kind."

While this is going on, TSA will take public comment, he said. Secure Flight is also being studied by the Government Accountability Office. "We are setting up a very robust redress system," he said.

The airlines will incur some costs related to Secure Flight, but "we want to make this as painless as possible," Oberman said.

Air travel systems such as Secure Flight offer challenges different from the ones faced at land border crossings, he said.

Volume makes implementing air passenger screening systems difficult, he said. The United States sees 1.8 million domestic boardings daily. Airports are also much less controlled than borders, since they do not require passports or a universal ID. "We could all make the 3:30 shuttle to La Guardia," he said, at 2:55, pointing out the difference between crossing borders and crossing states.

TSA is committed to improving security, Oberman said.

"We are taking a direct recommendation of the 9/11 recommendation to bring the watchlists into the government," he said. "We do think it represents a big improvement."

TSA workers will use more sophisticated technology to better identify individuals on watchlists and reduce false positives, Oberman said. "We have a long list of items that have to be checked off," he added.

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