WASHINGTON – Frequent fliers could cut their security check-in times to less than 10 minutes under the Registered Traveler Pilot Program launched Friday at Reagan National Airport.
But some Maryland travelers worried that those few extra minutes could come at a steep price — their privacy.
“My worst nightmare is identity theft. What if I do this, and I don’t come up as me — a criminal comes up as me instead?” asked Lashon Perkins of Oxon Hill. “Just as we get smarter, the hackers get smarter.”
Reagan is the first airport in the Mid-Atlantic to implement the Transportation Security Administration program that collects personal information — including a photograph and electronic scans of fingerprints and both eyes — to help speed travelers through security.
The program has already been implemented at airports in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston, where it will be tested for 90 days. At Reagan, where it will also be tried out for 90 days, it is being offered to American Airlines’ Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum passengers who travel more than 25,000 miles per year.
TSA officials said roughly 890 people had registered for the pilot program at Reagan as of Friday afternoon, 200 of them from Maryland.
At a news conference Friday at the airport, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge tried to lay privacy fears to rest.
“The data we collect will be tightly controlled,” said Ridge, who added that all personal information would be encrypted and layered within TSA’s Office of National Risk Assessment to prevent criminals from accessing the data.
Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle also said that if the program does not expand after the testing period, all information in the database would be destroyed.
But that is not enough to persuade Wes Troup of Riverdale to even consider the program.
“That’s too much information about me. I don’t think they need all that information just for me to get on the plane,” said Troup, who works at the airport’s T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant.
Co-worker Vincent Stephens of Landover worries that the program could be the first step to widespread collection of such data on people.
“I don’t even like going online to give my Social Security number,” Stephens said. “You give them one thing and they’ll run with it. Next thing you know, they’ll be doing it for buses and taxis.”
For others, the issue is not about security, but inequity.
“Unless you’re a gold card member, you can’t use it,” said Patricia Branch of Temple Hills. “So it’s actually for the elite, and the average person has to wait.”
Her husband, Vernon, fears distinction of a different kind.
“The government or somebody has more information than they need that can be accessed by a nefarious person, and a database that someday can be used against me,” he says. “Being a black man, I can be picked out for anything.”
But for Christine Lane, a military data network chief from Essex, the more information available to fight criminals and terrorists, the better.
“I have nothing to hide, and I think as a nation it’s good for us to have something like a national database,” she said. “And for one, I can get through lines faster.”
Despite the attraction of zipping through security at a crowded airport, it may take some time for the majority of flyers to get comfortable with the idea.
“I don’t think airport security is high enough to have my fingerprints on file,” Perkins said. “It seems kind of like a conspiracy.”
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