Trusted traveler programs offer speedy and unfair advantage

January 7, 2013 - 

Trusted traveler programs provide expedited travel for pre-approved, low risk travelers through dedicated lanes and kiosks. The programs have proliferated over the past several years due to increased air travel and globalized business. The United States, through its homeland security department, offers multiple programs: which include NEXUS and SENTRI.

NEXUS is a joint program with the Canada Border Services Agency that allows pre-screened, approved travelers faster processing. NEXUS was established in 2002 as part of the Shared Border Accord, a partnership between the United States and Canada that creates open channels of dialogue and working groups committed to the mutual goals of securing our shared border, while promoting the legitimate trade and travel that is vital to both economies.

NEXUS is an integrated program with one application and fee submission providing expedited passage in the air, land and marine modes of travel. Each approved member will receive a radio frequency identification card. However, individuals who are interested in air travel must undergo an iris capture to have their membership accepted at airports.

A NEXUS membership card fulfills the travel document requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that has required a passport or other secure travel document by all U.S. and Canadian citizens seeking entry or re-entry into the U.S. by air since 2007 and by land and sea since 2009.

Individuals may qualify to participate in NEXUS if they are a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or Canada residing in either country, or if they are a citizen of a country other than Canada or the United States who plan to temporarily reside lawfully in Canada or the United States for the term of their NEXUS membership and who pass various criminal history and law enforcement checks by both countries.

NEXUS is an example of cross-border coordination at work. A key goal of the partnership is to establish and expand trusted travel lanes at airports, waterways, and land crossings. It’s a way to strike the right balance between enhanced security and faster, more efficient travel between the U.S. and Canada. SENTRI is a similar program that provides expedited entry into the both the United States and Mexico.

Under both NEXUS and SENTRI programs, members can enjoy the benefits of Global Entry at no additional cost through using the automated kiosks for entry at participating airports. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk U.S. citizens and permanent residents upon arrival in the United States. However, NEXUS and SENTRI members will need to check their account status to see if they qualify under Global Entry, as they may need to submit their 10-fingerprints or any other necessary documentation in order to receive Global Entry benefits.

Over 650,000 people have registered for NEXUS cards, and the majority are satisfied with the service benefits. By being able to pass through automated passport control, many travelers can spend less than a minute to enter or re-enter the United States. Besides expedited arrival into the U.S. for immigration and customs, those in trusted traveler programs often get expedited security screening at many airports.

The major problems with expedited travel programs however is the cost for application and registration, along with its preferential treatment of elite frequent travelers. Global Entry costs US$100 per person, while NEXUS costs US$50 and SENTRI costs US$122.25 per person. The use of a fee levy to access expedited travel programs as a premium benefit is not egalitarian. It would be preferable if biometric technology for the automation of passport control could be extended to all travelers at a lower cost, to speed travel for everybody.

Another unwelcome development is the advent of premium security fast-track lines. Airports are now creating marketing partnerships with credit card issuers, such as American Express, to offer cardholders perks such as skipping long security clearance queues and offering parking discounts. With a tremendous amount of public funds being used to enhance air travel security on both sides of the border, it seems only fitting that such programs should not be permitted and be immediately discontinued.

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About Rawlson King

Rawlson O’Neil King is a contributing editor at BiometricUpdate.com and is an experienced communications professional, management consultant, trade journalist and author who recently published a book about control and electronic networks and who has written numerous articles in trade publications and academic journals about smart home and building technologies. Follow him @rawlsonking2.