Clear's Quick Airport Screening Service Shut Down

By Jonathan Starkey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Frequent fliers shuffled back into long security checkpoint lines in airports across the country yesterday after Verified Identity Pass shut down Clear, its expedited screening service.

New York-based Verified Identity Pass ceased operations late Monday night and notified its members in an e-mail. It said on its Web site that it was "unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor."

Brian White, 44, a networking consultant from Raleigh, received the e-mail around midnight Monday.

"It was a real bummer," said White, who said he has taken almost 200 flights, many out of Dulles International Airport, in the past year and a half. "Now I know I'm going to have to budget 45 minutes to an hour more each time."

Verified Identity Pass began enrolling people in 2005 and had more than 260,000 members who could bypass usual security lines at 21 airports, including Dulles and Reagan National. They were still subject, however, to the same security procedures as other fliers, including removing shoes and walking through detectors. The passengers were part of the federal Registered Traveler program, which requires that travelers divulge personal information and pass background checks in return for expedited screening.

Airline industry analyst Robert Mann said the lack of a distinct product, at a price of $199, ultimately cost Verified Identity Pass.

"There was a lot of attempt in the beginning to make it a real security product, but what it ended up being was an amenity," Mann said.

One Clear competitor, Chantilly-based FLO, said it was awaiting direction from the Transportation Security Administration.

"FLO is currently working with other participants in the industry as well as the Transportation Security Administration to analyze the implications of this announcement and to formulate a plan for the advancement of the program," the company said in a statement.

Clear and FLO were accepted at some of the same airports, including Dulles and Reagan National. The companies had disputed who had to pay for the lane infrastructure in airports where both programs operated.

The TSA said it had no comment and described the Clear program as "a market-driven, private-sector venture."

Verified Identity Pass said on its Web site that it will not issue refunds. That leaves members like Richard Hefner, 28, an engineer from Los Gatos, Calif., out of luck. He said he has been a Clear member since February 2007 and was paid through February 2011.

Steven Brill, Verified Identity Pass's chief executive until he left in February, said he did not know why the company ceased operating.

"What I do know for sure, however, is that the need for intelligent risk management hasn't diminished and that programs like Clear should have a role in our future, as we try to use common sense to balance security needs with freedom and the free flow of commerce," he said in a statement.

Brill declined to comment further.

Clear used fingerprints and iris scans to identify its members.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he had worries about the security of members' personal information and the possibility of identity theft. Verified Identity Pass's acting chief executive Jim Moroney did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but said in a conference call yesterday with the TSA that the company was in the process of deleting data from its system, according to Airports Council International-North America.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company