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US to bring in voluntary airport security program

The United States is to change procedures at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to improve the security and immigration process, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Under the scheme which will be deployed over the next few weeks, US citizens, permanent residents and frequent foreign visitors will use dedicated kiosks when arriving at JFK and will not be routinely subjected to questioning by Customs and Border Protection officials. Instead, their machine-readable passports will be scanned, finger prints will be taken for biometric checks, they will be photographed and have to make a declaration, but will then be able to claim their bags and leave the airport.

Enrolment in the program is voluntary, and will require a pre-screening clearance involving finger print checks and face to face interviews with DHS officers. Travellers not admissible to the US or who have been convicted of crimes in any country will not be eligible.

The plans were unveiled by US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge on January 13 during an official visit to Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. Mr. Ridge and the Dutch Minister for Immigration and Integration Rita Verdonk also revealed that they will cooperate on delivering an international registered travel program. The Secretary explained that the Netherlands had been chosen for such a pilot program because Schiphol has long experience with using biometric-based security features.

Mr. Ridge said that these developments build on the enhanced security measures introduced since the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The success of the US-VISIT program, particularly in deploying biometrics technologies and processes has given us the confidence to move forward with voluntary expedited travel programs using biometrics," he said.