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Transatlantic travel has rebounded to pre-Sept. 11 levels, but security measures enacted during the past six years have created both friction and cooperation between the European Union and the United States, said panelists during a session on international travel security challenges last month at the National Business Travel Association's conference here.
This year, a new approach to border security by the E.U., enhancements to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program and a transatlantic Open Skies agreementpromise to facilitate more travel than ever before between Western Europe and North America. But increased travel begets a greater need for new security technology--including deployment of new U.S. Transportation Security Administration systems expected by the this fall--and for greater cooperation on programs such as an agreement reached at the end of June to share data on air passengers.
According to OAG, airlines in March operated 21,833 flights between Western Europe and North America, marking the greatest transatlantic flight frequency volume reported by OAG for that month since 2001.
"We need to find a way to speed travelers through while still finding those needles in the haystack," said panel moderator C. Stewart Verdery Jr., partner and founder of Washington, D.C.-based Monument Policy Group and former first assistant secretary for policy and planning at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Verdery spearheaded the DHS deployment of the U.S.-VISIT program for foreign visitors and the E.U.-U.S. data-sharing agreement. The data-sharing agreement had raised concerns over privacy rights, so regulators agreed to reduce the amount of data collected on each passenger but to store the information longer. A key factor in the agreement was the establishment of the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP), with which "several thousand" travelers have cleared names from no-fly or security lists, Verdery said. The average redress process through TRIP takes about three weeks, he added.
"It gave assurance to travelers that, should cases of misidentification happen, there is a system of redress," said panelist Telmo Baltazar, political justice and home affairs counselor at the Washington, D.C. office of the European Commission.
Europeans and E.U. authorities have been "concerned with the U.S. response to 9/11" and how new security measures affect travel, Baltazar said. "It was an absolute critical thing to establish communication channels," he said.
As the U.S. was tightening security measures, the E.U. was rolling out a new border initiative that eliminates security checkpoints for intra-European land border crossings and sections off international travelers in airports. By the end of the year, E.U. states will have open borders with other E.U. members, as do U.S. states with one another, and focus will be redirected to external borders and ports of entry. E.U. has also started feasibility studies on programs like U.S.-VISIT and the registered traveler initiatives in the United States, Baltazar said.
The U.S. is looking to emulate some E.U. security measures, too, such as the establishment of what some critics call a national ID card. Called the Real ID card, the U.S. program was initiated in 2005. Beginning in 2008, with compliance dates varying by state, travelers may need a federally approved, electronically readable ID card to board an airplane. DHS has been charged with determining which state drivers' license cards do not meet criteria for the Real ID card, Verdery said.
The U.S. Congress on July 26 also approved enhancements to the country's Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of pre-approved nations to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. Though E.U. had pushed for visa waiver status for all of its member states in one block, U.S. authorities insisted on evaluating countries on their own, Baltazar said. To qualify for visa waiver status, a country must have a U.S. visa refusal rate of less than 10 percent, compared to a previous threshold of 3 percent, and must actively work with U.S. officials on intelligence and counterterrorism initiatives.
Panelist Dave Breillet, general manager of the commercial airlines unit in TSA's transportation sector network management, said the administration beginning this fall would roll out advanced X-ray scanners at airport security checkpoints and ramp up "visible intermobile response teams" that use scientifically based observation techniques to screen for potentially dangerous passengers.
"We're putting a web of security in place with the checkpoint at the center," Breillet said.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is in the midst of testing full-body X-ray machines using "backscatter" technology that critics say executes a virtual strip search. Eight other airports, including those in Miami, Newark, Boston and Los Angeles, are testing new liquid explosives detectors.
TSA also is attempting to focus on the most significant threats, Breillet said, noting that common lighters would no longer be banned from carry-on luggage as of 4 Aug.--freeing security officers to focus on other threats.
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