Last summer, the Clear / TSA Registered Traveler (RT) program was terminated. The premise of the Clear program was that frequent travelers willing to go through a government background check would pay for that service, in return for the convenience of a shorter trip through airport security. Apparently, about 200,000 people fit this profile and subscribed to the service. However, this was not a sufficient population to make Clear profitable, in spite of attempts to address the needs of frequent travelers such as office space for mobile workers and Father’s Day neckties. Abruptly, Clear ceased operations.
As part of its program, Clear issued a TSA-vetted smartcard that contained biometric information and a photograph of the registered traveler. Clear’s owner, Verified Identity Pass, Inc., also maintained a database of this information that was the subject of some intensive legal scrutiny and privacy concerns as to its disposition. As it turns out, that data has been preserved and will be transferred on an opt-out basis to a new company: Alclear, LLC.
In a message last week to its Clear members, Verified Identity Pass indicated that members who choose to opt-out by completing a form to that effect will have their existing records destroyed. For those willing to have their memberships revived, Alclear will restart the service and credit the time remaining on their subscription. This turns out to be a reasonable resolution, one that provides closure about the handling of sensitive personal and biometric data.
Whether or not the registered traveler business is viable or adds value and convenience remains to be seen. Clear is an example of a domestic public/private travel initiative. Another is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) for international travelers. CBP-GOES supports several trusted traveler programs including Global Entry, FAST, NEXUS, and SENTRI. As yet, TSA and CBP programs aren’t interoperable. The data for one doesn’t transfer to the other.
Imagine an international trip where you carry your passport for international destinations, your GOES credential for US customs, and your Clear card to reenter the airport for your domestic flight home. What starts to add up is the thickness of your wallet, the potential for exposure of sensitive information, and the hundreds of dollars paid for the privilege. Not to mention that these programs don’t eliminate the need for physical screenings.
One has to question whether the least common denominator for travel security isn’t sufficient for everyone, or if advance screening provides an advantage. Some airports offer expedited screening for frequent travelers, which reduces the benefit of TSA-cleared credentials. It will take time just to retrain screeners to recognize them as legitimate IDs. Alclear certainly faces an uphill battle to make its Clear program viable, but at least we now have control over the disposition of our data.