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TSA expanding program to speed security lines

Airport Body Scanners

By Dan Merica

WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. transportation security officials want to speed more travelers through airport security lines by expanding a voluntary program that offers online registration and requires a background check.

“Let’s get away from the one size fits all and let’s focus on those that we can pre-screen,” Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told the Aspen Security Forum on Friday.

“Those who are willing to share just a little bit of information and say let’s do that pre-screening so we can expedite your physical screen at the checkpoint because we have a high confidence that you are not a terrorist,” he said.

For those who opt to become a five-year member of the PreCheck program for $85, they can keep their shoes, belt and light jacket as they walk through a dedicated and expedited security line.

Additionally, they can keep a laptop and small water bottle in their bag.

The process of becoming a known traveler is largely done online, but also requires an in-person meeting with TSA. Fingerprints and a background check are required.

“Then, within two to three weeks … you will be issued a known travel number,” Pistole said, to applause in Aspen.

TSA hopes to have 25% of the traveling public enrolled in expedited screening by the end of 2013. More than 650 million people fly U.S. airlines annually.

The program was introduced last year with a few airlines participating. More carriers are joining up now.

Airlines and TSA have for years sought to expedite passenger screening, especially for premium-paying business customers. But striking a balance between thorough security in a post 9/11 age and the desire of travelers to reduce the “hassle factor” of airport screening has been a political, logistical, and financial challenge.

The idea of removing low-risk, pre-screened people from the main security lines, will allow security resources to be concentrated more closely on potential threats and alleviate long lines at security checkpoints.

Homeland security officials are most concerned about long-standing terror interests in bringing down U.S. airliners. Currently, the focus has been on sharpening the ability of security personnel to detect explosives.

Since the TSA first announced the PreCheck program in March of 2012, a total of 12 million travelers have taken advantage of expedited security lines.

When it was first released, the program was only available on Delta and American Airlines, but US Airways, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines were later included.

The latest expansion will include JetBlue and Southwest, the largest airline for domestic flights.

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