WASHINGTON_The U.S. government wants to offer airline passengers the chance to avoid extra security checks.
The Transportation Security Administration plans to make a "registered traveler" program available nationwide, agency chief Kip Hawley said Thursday in prepared testimony to Congress. The initial rollout is scheduled for June 20.
The program, which was tested at five airports, allows people to avoid random pat-downs if they pay a fee, clear a voluntary background check and provide some form of biometric identification, like a fingerprint. It's designed to let people who travel often avoid delays and to free up screeners to focus on other travelers.
"We believe that a nationwide registered traveler program can provide expedited screening for many travelers and enhance aviation security as well," Hawley told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on economic security.
Hawley said the TSA is considering adding benefits to the program, such as letting registered travelers keep their shoes and their jackets on, or setting up special screening lanes.
The government will conduct the background checks but Hawley said the plan is to use private companies to enroll travelers, issue ID cards that would be shown at airports and promote the program.
In January, the TSA plans to issue guidance on collecting and storing biometric data and to unveil an appeals process for people who are rejected as registered travelers.
The registered traveler concept is not embraced by everyone. Some security experts say it's a way for terrorists to find out if they're on government watch lists. The American Civil Liberties Union said it forces passengers to pay for convenience and give the government access to their personal information.