Orlando Airport to Test Program for Screening of Passengers

Space-age technology may soon peer into the eyes of travelers, check their fingerprints and speed them through security lines at MCO.


Space-age technology may soon peer into the eyes of travelers, check their fingerprints and speed them through security lines at Orlando International Airport.

One of those travelers will likely be Samuel Green, a presiding district bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Green, who flies as often as twice a week, is among the first of more than 1,700 people to join a pilot program for frequent fliers at OIA. He has paid $79.95 to have his ''biometrics'' -- fingerprints, iris and digital photo -- scanned into a private vendor's computer and to get a Department of Homeland Security background check.

The payoff: Starting next month, Green will stop at a machine at the security checkpoint that will authenticate his ''biometrics.'' A worker will verify his photo, then he'll skip the wait in the security line -- from 15 to 20 minutes or more sometimes -- and go straight to the metal detector at the main security checkpoint. He'll also be exempt from ''secondary screening'' searches that hit travelers, especially those making last-minute reservations and buying one-way tickets.

The program is called ''Clear,'' part of Verified Identity Pass, a company founded by Steve Brill, originator of Court TV. The Transportation Security Administration has conducted five much smaller tests of the program in the past two years, but this is the first major test involving a private contractor working with all airlines and all travelers, officials say. Clear will be allowed to enroll 30,000 people.

Clear uses technology by Lockheed-Martin, the high-tech defense firm. It is similar to the security measures usually reserved for getting into places like the inner sanctum of the CIA, high-security research labs and military offices.

''It relieves some of the tension and makes traveling less stressful,'' said Green, who can set a tighter schedule for himself knowing it makes no difference how long the security line is.

Green likened the sign-up process to applying for a passport. As the security line snaked along nearby, he sat at a Clear laptop and typed in his date of birth, Social Security number, place of birth and other information.

'It takes the unknown away from 'How long is that line today?' '' said Brigette Rivera Goersch, chief of security at OIA, the state's busiest airport. Yet there is no reduction in security, she said.

While the program is considered a ''trusted-traveler'' program, ''no one is excluded from the screening process,'' said Lauren Stover, eastern field director for public affairs for the TSA. Everyone goes through the metal detector.

''We're looking for a needle in a haystack,'' said Art Meinke, head of the TSA office in Orlando. ''The more hay we can push away, the better chance we have to find that needle.''

Miami International Airport is in the initial stages of bringing the concept to South Florida and officials there, like those at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, are watching Orlando's pilot program closely.

Still left to be decided are tough questions such as how the government will enforce a requirement that technology be compatible airport to airport.

''Once it gets to all the airports, then it is really going to make a big difference,'' said Linda Smith, an Orlando construction company owner who flies once a month on business and figures the Clear program will save her at least 20 minutes.

The spread to other airports is critical.

''We want to see across-the-board availability,'' said Pamela Shepherd, spokeswoman for Airports Council International, a trade organization representing 95 percent of the nation's airports. That way, she said, 'if you are a 'trusted traveler' at one airport, you are also a trusted traveler throughout the system.''

And not everyone will be approved as a trusted traveler. Anyone on the government's terrorist watch list won't get a pass. Nor will anyone with outstanding warrants. Beyond that, the TSA won't elaborate on security measures.

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