Dutch checks speed up at JFK

This week, Homeland Security Department officials announced a pilot program that will expedite travel between the Netherlands' Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in the coming weeks. The International Registered Traveler program is an extension of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program and will use biometrics to speed security checks and immigration processing for prescreened passengers.

The program will be voluntary, and passengers will sign up for it ahead of time. Dutch and U.S. citizens participating in the International Registered Traveler program can bypass routine questioning by Customs and Border Protection officers unless they are chosen for a selective or random secondary referral.

"It works on the same premises as the exit kiosks" of US-VISIT, said Anna Hinken, spokeswoman for US-VISIT.

Participants will swipe their machine-readable passports, submit fingerprints for biometric identification and be photographed at airport kiosks. After clearance, participants can claim their bags and leave. The pilot program will include U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and foreign visitors who travel frequently to the United States, subject to admissibility and a background check.

Last October, the Transportation Security Administration extended the registered traveler pilot program that allows frequent fliers in the United States to quickly pass through airport metal detectors at five airports. American Airlines participated in the program at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Logan Airport in Boston. Similar tests were conducted earlier in the year with Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis, United Air Lines in Los Angeles, and Continental Airlines in Houston and Boston.

"These efforts demonstrate again that we can design border security initiatives to both enhance homeland security and facilitate global commerce and travel," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said at an appearance at Schiphol Airport last week with Clifford Sobel, U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands. "In particular, a U.S./Dutch pilot will bring the extensive experience the Dutch government has had with expedited travel security initiatives together with U.S. efforts, paving the way toward a truly international registered traveler program that enhances security for all travelers."

Ridge said the U.S. government will partner with other allies in the future.

"Our approach at this point is to think big but begin implementing on a small scale," Ridge said. "We want to get it right."

DHS' chief privacy officer will make sure the system protects the privacy of participating travelers. "We'll have the same privacy standards as US-VISIT," Hinken said. "We'll publish a privacy impact assessment and have a redress policy."

The prescreening process might include checking identities against various biometric and biographic watch lists, perhaps using a criminal history check and a face-to-face interview with a DHS officer.

Marcia Hofmann, staff counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, expressed concern about overseas travelers' privacy.

"For U.S. citizens, the Privacy Act would protect their personal information, but that doesn't apply to the people who are just traveling here to visit," she said. "International travelers' information has more potential for abuse. If the DHS is going to set up an international registered traveler program, they should...adopt a framework to protect that information."

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