Entrepreneur: Fliers' Privacy Safe; Registered Traveler Program Defended

Travelers who sign up for the government-approved program allowing them to speed through airport checkpoints will do so at no cost to their privacy, entrepreneur Steven Brill says.

Brill's company, Verified Identity Pass, operates the USA's only Registered Traveler program at Orlando and is poised to expand to more airports once the U.S. Transportation Security Administration allows it starting June 20. Other companies including Saflink, Unisys and EDS are also expected to bid for airport business, but Brill's company has established itself as the leader with impressive partnership deals with Hyatt Hotels and General Electric.

Critics have assailed Registered Traveler as compromising the privacy of those who enroll.

But Brill vows never to share personal data with third parties, including marketers, car rental and credit card companies or hotels. His company also refrains from accepting data from other marketers. Trade publication Business Travel News published Brill's comments Tuesday, and he elaborated on the privacy issue in a USA TODAY interview.

Hacking the program's identity card code is impossible, Brill says. Even if the code could be hacked, the possession of a traveler's name, template of the right thumb and left iris would do little good for data thieves, he says. "It doesn't do you any good unless you can actually steal my right thumb and left iris," he said.

Travelers who enroll, pass a government background check and pay the annual membership fee of about $80 prove their identity at airport checkpoints by an electronic reading of a fingerprint or iris.

VIP doesn't keep track of members' travel patterns and destinations. "If you use it to go to Guantanamo, we couldn't tell," he says.

Marcia Hofmann of Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center says the program still faces some privacy and security issues, including government handling of rejected applications. She also says creation of a separate screening line for those willing to make "civil liberties concessions to achieve some benefits" is a bad precedent.

The number of VIP's enrolled customers topped 18,000 this month at Orlando. Brill says it could rise more quickly once the company signs up more corporate customers who buy memberships in bulk. In February, Hyatt bought "tens of thousands" of memberships for valued customers.

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