TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Fliers Privacy Safe

Fliers Privacy Safe

Roger Yu (
Thu, 23 Mar 2006 13:07:50 -0600

Fliers' privacy safe, entrepreneur says
By Roger Yu, USA TODAY

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.

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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