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TSA eyes PreCheck expansion by outsourcing background checks

The Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program, which permits expedited screening procedures for “trusted travelers” who belong to participating airline frequent flyer programs, could be expanded to larger numbers of people as the agency is seeking vendors to take on the task of gathering personal data from applicants.

TSA has issued a call for proposals from non-governmental entities that might be able to provide background checks on individuals non currently participating in PreCheck. The agency said it is seeking the proposals with an eye toward “a further expansion of expedited physical screening, an initiative that directly support’s the TSA’s intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to security.”

The agency recently started testing a limited expansion of PreCheck in some airports by allowing TSA agents to pick out individuals from the regular security screening lanes and send them to the PreCheck lane if they appear to be trustworthy, and if the lines at PreCheck are short.

According to TSA, this new initiative with private vendors could “enhance aviation security by placing more focus on pre-screening individuals who are U.S. citizens, volunteer to participate, and are willing to provide some information about themselves that can be used to evaluate the degree of risk posed by that individual to the aviation transportation system.”

Potential vendors would also be expected to mount a program that would educate consumers about the advantages of PreCheck and enroll them for pre-screening in a way that is “convenient” and “user-friendly,” the solicitation said; and to pass along to TSA’s Secure Flight program the identity of persons who have passed the background checks.

Participating companies would be expected to impose strict safeguards on all personal data collected from passengers, and not to use it for any other purpose unless authorized in writing by the individual involved.

According to the TSA’s solicitation, the minimum data elements to be gathered on participants would be their full name, gender, and date of birth. TSA said it “could be desirable” if vendors also gathered other information to “further enhance the integrity of the risk reduction proposition,” such as address, employer, previous names used, Social Security number, positive identity verification “through the use of innovative concepts,” and images of any forms of ID provided by the applicant.

Successful enrollees would be assigned a “known traveler number” that would assure their access to PreCheck lanes. TSA said that while it wants to maximize participation in expedited screening, it nonetheless “recognizes that any process put into use will likely identify some travelers who may actually have no intent to cause harm, but are screened out due to specifics of their personal history.”

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