This is who I am. Are we Clear?

» 03 January 2007 » In Rants »

While waiting in the security line at the San José airport before my trip to Portland, I noticed a TSA officer handing out well-designed, colorful brochures similar to the ones you can find at your local bank. Except this one had CLEAR in big letters on the front. I took one and read it on the flight.
Basically, TSA is instituting a FlyClear program, wherein travelers may choose to get screened in advance in order to facilitate their progress through the security in the future. You provide two forms of government issued ID (including US Passport or green card, but “a passport is strongly preferred”) with your application, they take your fingerprints and iris photos, and the first-year $99.95 fee. What goes on next is unclear (hah), but apparently TSA “makes the necessary security threat assessment” and issues you a Clear card, if you pass. Once you have the card you have access to a designated Clear lane at participating airports, where in addition to the good old metal detector and the X-ray machine for you baggage, you also undergo some biometric checks.
So on the surface it’s nothing more than a FasTrak pass, except for people (instead of cars) going through metal detectors (instead of toll booths). You pay for the privilege of potentially avoiding long security lines, which seems like a big pro for those who travel often. But I see at least one big con here: the government now has access to your complete biometric data. They say that it’s required in order to verify your identity in the Clear lane, but that smells fishy to me. Identity verification has been working fine in the normal lanes for a long time now, and if it hasn’t, why is the practice continuing? Also, TSA says they continuously monitor your security status, and if it changes, your membership will be immediately deactivated and back to the normal lanes you go. How much sense does that make? If someone’s status is suspect, wouldn’t you want them to get more stringent identity checks at the airport?
I think this is nothing more than a ploy to get at your biometric information. The FlyClear privacy policy makes all kinds of assurances about this info being collected purely for identity verification and underscores that the entrance log files are purged after 24-48 hours. Personally, I am skeptical of these promises in light of what has transpired in the past. I also can’t help feeling that the future portrayed in Gattaca is not too far off. So, FlyClear if you must, but remember this: Big Brother just got a brand new Christmas present.
UPDATE: Bruce Schneier makes some other good points about this program.

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