If you haven’t heard about Clear, it is a fast-pass program designed for frequent flyers to get them through airport security in an expedited manner. In exchange for your $99 US, you get online signed up, background checked, retina scanned, fingerprinted, and issued a spiffy id card including a geek-fabulous microchip.
That spiffy card gets you what I’d call an airport valet, who verifies your identity, then discreetly whisks you away to the metal detectors with no waiting. As the Clear website “How it Works” section describes it, “.. members still proceed through metal detectors and x-ray machines” but adds “when you approach the lane, our attendants will help you with the bins and to get ready to go through the checkpoint. This alone helps our lane speed by as much as 30%!” Blogger Anil Dash signed up for the service and posts his experience here. It’s a good description first person account, although he’s missing the biggest problem with all of this. I’m not talking about the obvious privacy issues, nor the fact that nothing screams elitist asshole more than paying for airport line jumping.
Here’s the real question: How does this increase security? Answer: it doesn’t, and you’d be hardpressed to believe otherwise unless you’re shooting dopamine. Let’s step back to 9/11 a moment – would Mohammed Atta and his merry men have batted an eyelash about retina scans and such? Why would invasion of privacy matter to guy who is about to die? Furthermore, I’m not sold on the recurring security checks either – we’ve seen suposedly normal people turn radicalized before, and it’s unlikely Clear will help Homeland Security catch this any faster than the present. If the opposite turns out to be true then Homeland Security is a useless middleman, and need to be abolished.
You might be wondering why Homeland Security would buy into this awkward situation. If you’re not, I’m going to tell you anyway. Flying Clear get you the nightclub velvet rope experience, but more importantly allows you to subsidize a function that Homeland Security is supposed to cover (using your tax dollars I might add). It’s a nice chunk of change if Clear CEO Steve Brill’s claim that 30-50% of weekday flyers will be registered by 2009 comes to fruition. What’s even better for Homeland Sec. is bypassing the endless CSPAN privacy deliberations sure to come if they have the TSA handle it. It’s much easier to let the private sector run with it, which bypasses this silly democratic process stuff.
Update 06.23.2009: It appears CLEAR has gone bust. The website now displays the following message:
Clear Lanes Are No Longer Available.
At 11:00 p.m. PST on June 22, 2009, Clear will cease operations. Clear’s parent company, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. has been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations.