New biometrics group focuses on frequent fliers

Group will advise the government on credentialing programs, including the registered traveler system.

A new coalition of biometric and access-control companies launched Monday to advise the government on large public-credentialing programs such as the Registered Traveler system of the Transportation Security Administration.

The group, called the Voluntary Credentialing Industry Coalition, will be led by Wexler & Walker Vice Chairman Tom Blank. Its members include ARINC, ImageWare Systems, Iridian Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Panasonic, GE Security, Saflink and Verified Identity Pass.

While there are numerous trade associations representing the security and biometrics industries, Blank VCIC will focus on voluntary credentialing programs and related issues of consumer privacy and data theft. "What we're trying to address is the public policy component," he said. "We expect to have an impact on a full range of federal credentialing" projects.

The first order of business is Registered Traveler, which is designed to let pre-cleared, frequent fliers carry biometric identity cards and speed through security checkpoints at airports. The program finished a test phase at five airports in 2005 and soon will be expanded nationwide.

The agency is seeking advice on business models, technology and liability. In submissions last week, VCIC told TSA that consumer privacy is a top priority. "We urge that TSA require ... any issuer of Registered Traveler memberships be subject to the standards of the Federal Privacy Act" and state clearly whether data will be shared with third parties.

"One of our highest priorities is articulating and delivering on our coalition's commitment to strong, accountable privacy protection standards," Wexler & Walker Chairman Anne Wexler said in a statement. "And last week's submission to the TSA on privacy protection makes it clear that we intend to be proactive rather than defensive when it comes to that issue."

Privacy watchdogs have expressed concern about how personal consumer data will be safeguarded. "In the case of Registered Traveler," the Electronic Privacy Information Center said on its Web site, "TSA has identified 13 categories of 'routine uses' of personal information," with several being "so broad as to be almost meaningless."