15 October 2008

Registered Traveler 'Clear' Card Fee Goes Up To US$199: Is This Worth It? I Think Not

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15/10/2008 – Registered Traveler 'Clear' Card Fee Goes Up To US$199: Is This Worth It? I Think Not

A few days ago Verified Identity Pass (VIP) announced that it would be increasing the fee for registering for a "Clear" card

VIP issues the Clear Card in accordance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Registered Traveler Program. The idea of the Registered Traveler is to perform background checks on applicants for the program, speed up their airport security process.

Having looked over the Clear program, and the Registered Traveler program in general, I see only one distinct advantage to holding a Clear card. This advantage is facing shorter airport security wait times, at a limited number of airports.

Back in December 2007 I discussed Clear, and explained that I did not see the value in spending $100 for a Clear card in this entry : 18-December-2007 : To Register Or Not To Register That Is The Question! Should You Be A Registered Traveler?


Now as we are nearing the end of 2008, and Clear raises it’s cost to US$199, I see less value for Clear on a number of levels.

For the US$199 fee a Clear flyer must submit to a lengthy and invasive background check. In this check you must disclose a significant amount of personal information. In addition to this information you must also submit your fingerprints and retina scan. Back in December 2007 I said that I did not believe in a conspiracy theory, I didn't think there were black helicopters circling my house. Although I am my conspiracy theorist, I like to keep my private information private.

In the past year VIP has proven that it is not ready to secure personal and sensitive data. The most notable glitch in VIP's Clear security was in August of 2008 (which I wrote about here: 5/08/2008 - 'Clear' Registered Traveler User Information Stolen) . A laptop, containing the personal information of more than 33,000 Clear applicants and users was stolen from an office at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). To make matters worse, the data on this computer was not encrypted. All the information was available for the taking. The laptop was mysteriously returned to the same office it as stolen from a few days later, with no explanation. VIP claims the computer was not tampered with, however it would be hard to tell if a non-encrypted computer's hard drive was cloned or not.

So with all this in mind what does paying US$199 to Clear get you as a Registered Traveler?

- You are still subject to TSA searches
- Your laptop must still be removed from your bag
- You still may not bring liquids through security
- You are still subject to random secondary searches
- You may still have "SSSS" printed on your boarding pass for secondary screening

......you will however be escorted to a machine that will scan your fingerprints and your retina; you will cut the entire security line; you may (in some airports) leave your shoes on.

Since Registered Travelers are subject to all the same security restrictions of every other traveler what is the benefit of being a registered traveler? That you can leave your shoes on?

Personally I don't mind taking my shoes off. I'd rather be able to leave my laptop in my bag. I am able to leave my laptop in my bag in many other countries. If I have submitted to an intensive background check and offered up a scan of my fingers and my eye, why can't I bring a bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale from home through security with me?

Given that companies that administer the Registered Traveler program are responsible for researching and carrying out the security background checks, rather than the Federal Government, how secure is this system? Since airport security was Federalized to create a uniform system of airport security (except the few airports, such as SFO that are private airport security) shifting the responsibility to a private company is detrimental to the overall security of commercial aviation.

The installation of the Registered Traveler program is profitable to the Department of Homeland Security, but should ‘Security Theater’ be acceptable? Should allowing companies that are not proven in handling secure personal data to determine who is and is not a potential threat?

With the way the Registered Traveler companies operate, can we just have a system in place where we pay US$100 and simply get to skip the line?

.......come on, the background check does NOTHING to alter our security screening anyway when we get to the TSA checkpoint.

Happy Flying!

2 comments:

Rick Lobrecht said...

They've effectively doubled al qaeda's find out if you're on the No Fly list budget.

See The Atlantic for details.

Anonymous said...

I have used it all over the US and it's worth it. If you are worried about the safety and privacy of your information, think again about Internet companies :). Ben Edelman's blog on privacy should help.