Passengers on U.S.-Netherlands Flights Can Use Biometric Security Check

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Some travelers between the United States and the Netherlands will be able to pass airport security checks more quickly by using biometric information under a new test program announced Thursday.

After a background check, frequent fliers between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam will be eligible for the program, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.

A similar system is in use for domestic travelers at some U.S. airports.

The test program will eventually allow registered passengers to avoid long lines at security and passport checks upon departure and arrival. Instead, they will stop at a kiosk where their passports and fingerprints will be checked. They will be photographed before claiming their bags and exiting the airport.

The program will be phased in for departures and arrivals at JFK in coming weeks, and for departures and arrivals at Schiphol by April. It is expected to include several thousand passengers in the initial phase and then will likely be expanded. Passengers of all nationalities can apply.

"The main advantage to the United States will come if this program successfully and efficiently moves traffic through and other countries say 'We ought to apply this on a much broader basis,'" Ridge told reporters in Amsterdam.

The data also will be used for security purposes and will be made available to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement officials.

Ridge said similar projects within the United States have proved "wildly popular" because they reduced waiting time at security checks by up to 45 minutes. He predicted that biometrics -- which translate fingerprints, irises, voices and facial features to storable electronic data -- will become standard technology.

The use of biometrics has been contested by some groups that claim it violates passenger privacy. But Ridge said speed and safety were the overriding concerns.

"You can't force someone to comply with this, but if they don't, they're going to be liable to the old kind of security check," Ridge said. "We think most people will be happy when the program is in place."

The United States already has fingerprinted 17 million foreign visitors to the country under a program called US-Visit.

European countries, reacting to requests from the U.S. government, also plan to introduce biometric information on passports.

Ridge said Wednesday that U.S. passports also should include biometric finger scans -- for all 10 fingers.

"If we're going to ask the rest of the world to put fingerprints on their passports, we ought to put our fingerprints on our passports," he said then.

Ridge is on his final European visit as part of the Bush administration. U.S. President George W. Bush has nominated Michael Chertoff to replace him in February.