It’s not often a company goes bankrupt and comes back from the dead as a better, smarter firm. Seems like companies are more often built on the rubble of previous ventures instead. The airport express security program CLEAR is a notable counterexample, with its database of Transportation Security Administration-approved biometrics that let them whisk you through the airport security lines. With over 200,000 paying members, the first generation of CLEAR just up and declared bankruptcy one day and shut down, leaving a lot of frustrated, disappointed users: no-one got a dime back.
Fast forward a few years and the company has been relaunched under a new management team and the first thing that they did was to extend every previous CLEAR subscriber membership in the new program for the time they had left originally. Without charge. Nice. Smart way to build instant customer loyalty.
When they approached me a few weeks ago and offered a one-year membership in the CLEAR program, I read about the program and decided to sign up. I don’t fly that often by myself — if you travel with others and they don’t have CLEAR, well, they’ll end up in the slow lane while you zip through. Not a way to keep friends and definitely not an option with children involved — but still, I love the idea so I signed up!
Taking advantage of my trip out to Los Angeles to speak at Blogworld Expo, I went through the CLEAR biometric collection step at the airport, with my friend and photographer Aimee Giese in tow…
Data. Lots of Data
I knew in advance that I had to bring my passport, current drivers license, and be ready to have my fingerprints and eyes scanned. They collect all the data digitally, so the CLEAR enrollment kiosk is really a wonder of compact tech, with an iris scanner, camera, fingerprint scanner and document scanner, along with a mag card reader, keyboard and big display screen. Quite the gizmo!
That took me a bit by surprise too. I thought that my passport would be used to verify my ID, not actually scanned and parsed. To give you a sense of how sophisticated their system is, the first time we went through the application process, I signed up as “Dave” Taylor and when my passport was scanned, it failed to verify because it lists me as “David” Taylor. Right. We backed up, revised it to “David” and it worked properly. Cool.
Then it was time for my fingerprints to be collected…
I had to then enter my social security number, which they used to immediately pull my credit report and quiz me on background data only I’d know, like previous street addresses. Creepy to suddenly have my street address from twelve years ago pop up on their screen, but I’ve seen this sort of credit history quiz verification system before and passed the test, fortunately. If you have a bad memory, you could have a problem with this, I suppose.
The Great Iris Scan
The last step of the process was to scan my irises (iri?) and that was surprisingly easy: a glass panel at (adult) eye level on the kiosk, about 8″ wide had the eye imaging device and all I had to do was slowly move forward and backward until a small green dot appeared in my face’s reflection on the glass. Moments later we were looking at my irises:
Apparently, there are more personally identifying points on your iris than there are on your fingers, so an iris scan is actually a better way to establish identity. After seeing the film Minority Report, however, I worry about unexpected workarounds.
That was it. Data collected. I’ll get my CLEAR card in the mail, with all my biometrics encrypted in the chip buried within the card.
How is it encoded? “It’s all ones and zeroes” the gal working at the kiosk explained. Uh, yeah, so’s everything else. Still, as I pointed out to them, CLEAR now has an extraordinary wealth of data on me, more than just about anyone else, including the US Government, between my birthday, SSN, fingerprints, iris scans, and travel history. That’s slightly alarming from a Big Brother perspective, but understanding how they secure and keep this data safe is a separate discussion, one that I’ll have with their security team, and report back.
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to get my card and try it, preferably on a day when the airport’s crazy busy.
Curious about CLEAR? If you sign up using my referrer code, you’ll get an additional month of membership free. Why not give it a shot, particularly if you’re a frequent traveller? Here’s the link: Sign up for CLEAR today.
Note: at this moment in time, CLEAR is only available at the Denver International and Orlando airports. There are a lot more airports that they’re in negotiations with, and the buzz online is that next up are (hopefully) Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Don’t quote me on that, though.