Back In The Clear: Airport Security Service To Resume Operations

Today the New York Times reports that Clear, a company that advertised itself as letting you sail through the security line, is coming back. The company, which died of unknown causes back in June, could resume operations by the “holidays.”

Danny Sullivan at Daggle.com was a believer:

Clear, or Fly Clear as it was sometimes known, allowed people to bypass regular security at some airports for an annual fee. I’ve been a regular user since it started. In fact, I was probably one of the program’s most successful affiliates. I’d written about it from an early point, and so many people used my code to get an extra month (and giving me one in the process) that my card was good through 2064.

Clear evolved from the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler program, which lets companies establish exclusive security lines at airports. Verified Identity Pass, Inc., Clear's parent company, gobbled up the largest market share with 18 of the 21 airports with reserved security lines. Lockheed Martin is the systems intregrator, which I assume means they transistioned the technology out of DHS? Gave Clear lots of money? Who knows what's what in the Homeland Security sausage factory. But I digress.

I was getting all excited about maybe shelling out the $199 for a Clear card, but the more I read, the less I understand.

First off, the Clear card merely lets you cut in front of others in line. It does not let you skip the shoes-and-baggie part. According to one experienced Clear user in the techcrunch comments section, Clear doesn't mean you can board with more than the prescribed 3-1-1:

Just so folks understand – you didn’t get to skip the security “experience”. You simply had priotity access to the checkpoint itself. Still had to remove your shoes, take off your coat, your 3-1-1 plastic bag, laptop out, etc.

So are you "clear" or aren’t you? Now that they have your fingerprints and eye-scans in a database, you get to skip the line, but you’re not so verified that they’d have confidence in you not to smuggle a bomb into your laptop or face cream? And why do you need to show your card if you're also swiping a fingerprint at the kiosk and showing a government-issued ID? For all that, you don't even get to bring an extra ounce of shampoo.

OK, so even if the only benefit is skipping the 50-minute line at Dulles (shudder), I understand the $199 fee. I’d be willing to shell out some cash and my digital identifiers if I could avoid having to remove my shoes, take out my laptop, take out A/V equipment, take off my coat, place my pathetic baggie into a separate bin (god I’m exhausted just thinking about it). But why do we need fingerprints and iris scans on top of the $199 to slip through security slightly faster than a 1K Platinum Global Elite Demiurge Ubermensch?

The more I think about it, the more paranoid it makes me. I realize that there’s only so much privacy you can realistically expect from now on. Even if I don’t cough up my finger- and eye-prints, my online medical records will still be stolen, and if they’re not online, some enterprising hobo will still find them in the trash can out back of the doctor’s office. And for all you off-the-grid militiamen out there, cancelling your doctors appointments won’t help either: In 2006, USA Today reported that 87 percent of Americans could be identified by records listing solely their birthdate, gender and ZIP code. The only thing that makes me feel better is that there is still safety in numbers.

So now for my questions to you, dear reader.

1) Do any Spectrum Online readers have Clear memberships? Is it worth it to you? How long did the fingerprint- and eye-scan process take? Was it convenient, or did you have to schlep to an anonymous office park in McLean, Virginia?

2) Is my contention reasonable: that in an age where everyone is online and catastrophically oversharing, the information pool is so huge and overwhelming that the probability of MY information being stolen is statistically insignificant?

3) In terms of airport security bypassing systems (like the UK’s Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS), CLEAR and FLO) do you prefer a card, or an IRIS-like system where you can forget the card and the picture ID and instead go into a small room where you look into a mirror and your eye is scanned and your eye is the only ID you need? What’s the word on laser scarring on the inside of your retina?

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