August 8, 2002 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
But it's worse at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, the country's major thoroughfare, where restrictions for getting on a plane are a lot more stringent. Anticipating increasing passenger traffic in the late '90s, airport authorities decided they needed an efficient way to screen passengers deemed low risk so they could better concentrate on unknown travelers.
Israeli airport officials examined the INS Passenger Accelerated Service System (INSPASS), developed for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. INSPASS is used at airports in New York City; Newark, N.J.; Miami; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Detroit; and Washington, D.C. Developed by Electronic Data Systems (EDS), INSPASS enables low-risk travelers to bypass normal inspection lines. Ben Gurion authorities wanted a similar system, so EDS helped them develop the Express Entry system, which identifies frequent flyers through hand geometry biometrics. The system whisks frequent travelers through the security process and allows authorities to concentrate on "higher-risk" passengers. Frequent travelers, mostly locals, pre-register by submitting biographic information and a handprint.
Upon arrival at the airport, the traveler swipes an Israeli bank card identifying himself or herself at one of 21 kiosks. At that point, the system brings up a biometric template. The template then reads the live handprint and compares it to the one stored from pre-registration. If there's a match, the traveler gets a receipt and moves on through the process.
"If you look at Ben Gurion, they've got a very rigorous security process, especially on departure," said David Troy, senior project manager of EDS. "It could take a couple of hours to get from curb to gate."
In fact, Ben Gurion is one of the most heavily guarded civilian airports in the world. Plainclothes officials roam the airport looking for suspicious-acting characters. Travelers fitting that description might be searched, and Palestinians are subject to much stricter procedures than other travelers.
The Express Entry system allows authorities to spend more time face-to-face with travelers. "All the security officials will tell you what they need is the face time to spend with these unknown travelers," Troy said. "That's how they determine, through intuition, through examination of documents, that kind of thing, whether this person should be investigated further."
Meanwhile, frequent travelers who have registered with the system get through the process in minutes. "You're taking a known quantity out of the equation," Troy said. "You're saying, 'We know these people, they travel often, they've been checked out so there's no reason to continually check these people.'"
Actually, the system does continually check on frequent flyers. During the Express Entry enrollment process, officials do background checks on the applicants, checking "lookout databases" -- databases that include the names of people who have been deemed suspicious.
Every time a frequent flyer checks in at one of the airport's kiosks, the Express Entry system checks those lookout databases to make sure the individual hasn't been added to the list of people to watch.
INSPASS was developed to decrease inspection time for low-risk international travelers entering the United States. INSPASS uses hand geometry biometric data, facial picture and digital fingerprint information. Travelers using INSPASS are issued a PortPASS card that remains property of the INS and can be canceled at any time. More than 98,000 travelers currently use INSPASS.
The Express Entry system is a modification of INSPASS designed to meet the needs of Ben Gurion, where more than 90,000 travelers have passed through the kiosks since the project was rolled out in July 1998. The system now has about 120,000 active users. Approximately 15 percent of the travelers using the airport are enrolled in the program, which suggests the system could be beneficial in the United States