TSA Stays Silent As Its Registered Traveler Program Melts Down

It’s been a day since Clear closed, so I thought a fresh post on the aftermath is in order. Refunds? Forget it!  The data Clear has on you? To be destroyed. But your Clear card will still work. Where? With the two other “Registered Traveler” programs that serve all of three airports in total. Assuming those companies also don’t go under, of course. Meanwhile, the TSA — which started the Registered Traveler program that encompasses the service these various companies offer — has nothing to say in the wake of its collapse.

NOTE (Sept. 20, 2010 : See Clear Airport Security Is Back, With All The Downsides about the resumption of the Clear program, after Clear closed on June 22, 2009. Also see my category on Clear for any further news about the program that I may have posted since this note.

Clear Airport Security Program Closes Abruptly; Goodbye Flo, Too? has all the news from yesterday. If you need more details for some of the things I cover in this new post, I suggest checking out that story as well.

In that post, I mentioned that there were two competitors to Clear still standing: Flo and Preferred Traveler. The Flo site still makes it seem like it serves nearly 20 airports. In reality, it only covered this many because anyone with a Flo card could also use Clear. Flo actually only has its own machine in Reno. Preferred Traveler has its own machines in Jacksonville and Louisville. Both companies have to honor each others’ cards and, as I’ll explain more, are still to honor Clear cards. In short, the entire “Registered Traveler” network now boils down to three airports in total:

  • Jacksonville
  • Louisville
  • Reno

With a vast selection like that, I can’t see why many people would go through the expense and hassle of signing up unless they fly from one of those three specific airports. And given that, you have to wonder if the entire Registered Traveler program backed by the US government is now going to die a sudden death.

Well good, those snooty people paying to get to the front of the line deserve what they get. I’ve seen this comment a number of times, and I’ll do a future post addressing the realities of what Clear provided as well as the mess that continues with airport security lines in general. But for now, more of the immediate postmortem.

Over at Airports Council International – North America — a group that “represents local, regional and state governing bodies that own and operate commercial airports in the United States and Canada” — there’s a summary of a meeting that was held today where Clear updated airports in on the current situation (and in more depth than it has updated its own paying members). It’s good reading. The PDF is here, but somehow I was also emailed a copy:

ACI-NA

Security Notice

Re: Registered Traveler Update

Date: June 23, 2009

Today, TSA held a conference call with industry associations to discuss Clear’s cessation of Registered Traveler (RT) operations yesterday. Joe Corrao, TSA Registered Traveler Program Manager hosted the call to allow Clear representatives an opportunity to speak to the private sector. Verified Identity Pass (Clear’s Parent Company) Acting CEO, Jim Maroney, General Counsel, Charles Bennett and Chief Technology and Security Officer, Jason Slibeck participated on the call to answer questions.

Jim Maroney reiterated that Clear ceased operations as the company was unable to negotiate funding from its creditor. A statement to that effect has been posted the Clear Web site www.flyclear.com.

As the result of questions about the privacy of data, Maroney stated that all applicant and member personal information will continue to be secured in accordance with TSA requirements but is in the process of being deleted under the direction of company officials. Clear has a plan to secure and delete personal information in three areas:

  1. Enrollment – Clear is using G-Band to secure software and data on kiosks
  2. Lap tops – Clear is bringing all employee lap top computers to its office in New York so data can be removed
  3. Central System – Once it has worked with the Sponsoring Entities (airports and airlines), Clear will ensure that data is removed from the central system located at Lockheed Martin’s facilities in Orlando and Palm Coast.

Clear requested that airports provide access to its equipment so that it can remove the data. Although airports can move Clear equipment, local program managers will need access to it and to electrical power in order to remove the data. Clear is working with its program managers to ensure that all keys, ID badges and other property is returned to airports. Due to its financial condition, Verified cannot provide refunds to its members. Customers with questions should be directed to the Clear Web site or they can contact Jason Slibeck via email at jslibeck@verifiedidpass.com.

At this point, the TSA Registered Traveler Program Office has no intention of placing Clear cardholders on the card revocation list (CRL). Therefore, Clear customers will be able to use Flo and Vigilant Systems Registered Traveler lines at the remaining three airports: Jacksonville, Louisville and Reno.

However, TSA stated a decision was reached this morning that Clear cards will no longer be an acceptable form of identification to gain access to security checkpoints. Further, the Office of Security Operations (OSO) plans to provide guidance to FSDs later today directing Travel Document Checkers (TDCs) not to accept Clear Registered Traveler cards from passengers.

OK, let me translate some of this plus highlight the additional questions it raises.

First, all that data that Clear has on people is apparently going to be destroyed. Good, but…

Second, the TSA is saying apparently that the Clear cards remain valid as part of the Registered Traveler system (so Flo and Preferred Traveler have to honor them at their three combined airports). But…

Third, if the Clear data is being destroyed, how do Flo and Preferred Traveler know anything to validate? Or do they have their own copies of a complete Registered Traveler database that the TSA maintains?

Fourth, that thing about Clear cards not being acceptable ID? Some Clear cards contained pictures (older ones did not, and Clear never seems to have mailed out new ones with pictures to those with old cards — like me). The TSA was apparently honoring the picture ID Clear cards as a government ID, so you didn’t need to show a Clear card and your driver’s license or other photo ID when doing security. Now, you’ll need to do that again — if you use the Registered Traveler checkpoints at one of the remaining three airports.

And what’s all this Registered Traveler business? My past post, CLEAR Registered Traveler System To Improve; Airport Security Competitors Coming!, has some background on the program the TSA oversees that allowed private companies to speed the security process. Or really, not clearing actual security but speed you to the front of the security line.

Which brings me to …. where the hell is the TSA in all this? I’m learning from some airport group that the TSA has made decisions, but the TSA site, the TSA blog, the TSA Twitter account and the TSA page about the Registered Traveler program all say nothing. Nada. Unacceptable. TSA oversees this program. It’s in disarray. At least one company appears to be misrepresenting how wide the network is. Let’s have some oversight and communication.

On to some fresh news accounts:

Airport security fast-track firm’s shutdown leaves customers without refunds from the Salt Lake Tribune notes the confusing situation where Flo lists Salt Lake as an airport it serves but airport authorities have no idea if Flo will take over the existing Clear setup. I doubt it — that equipment doesn’t belong to Flo. We also get this statement from the TSA (Wired and CQ got similar one):

TSA has no comment on Verified Identity Pass’ announcement. The Clear program was a market-driven, private-sector venture, offered in partnership with airports and airlines in certain locations,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said in an e-mail.

Um, no. The TSA has press releases about: the launch of the Registered Traveler pilot program (here); the initial $28 fee that the TSA collected from each registrant (here) as part of the program “facilitated by the federal government;” the elimination of that fee after it became clear the TSA would not let people pass through the actual security screening faster plus clearance for the RT program to expand to more airports (here) and its temporary suspension of new Clear registrations after Clear lost (and later found) a laptop containing registration information (here). But sure, this was all a pure private-sector thing that — when it collapsed in a big way — was no longer something the TSA felt it needed to mention to the public in general, much less comment on to the press.

Right.

As I said, I’ll come back to a future post of what Clear did do (got you through the security wait quickly in a dependable manner) and didn’t do (get you through the metal detector and x-ray scanner faster). While not having the latter was a disappointment, both USA Today and CQ have examples about how the former really helped.

Personally, that dependability was a huge boon for me as a regular business traveler. If the private sector solutions are going, I certainly hope the airports figure out a more consistent and dependable way for all travelers to know the typical wait time and where to go (the “expert traveler” etc. lanes aren’t a good solution; on the fairness front, if Clear was seen as unfair by some, then what’s up with the special frequent flyer / first class lines).

Postscript: See Registered Traveler Meltdown: Class Action Suit, Flo Might Close & Anyone For Fraud Investigation? for the latest. Closing comments here so they can flow to the freshest post.


Comments

  1. says

    There are many issues prompted by the concept of Clear, including the economic inefficiency of having frequent fliers and other travelers whose time is worth a great deal to our overall economy waste tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of potentially productive hours standing in security lines.

    But one aspect of the history of Clear — the TSA’s insistence on looking at a photo ID in addition to a Clear card — also illustrates an example of the TSA’s frequent inability to act intelligently, or even with basic common sense. It is almost hard to imagine the absurdity of an agency which rejected the infallible certainty of biometric identification in favor of having fallible and possibly overworked employees compare tiny driver license photos to travelers’ faces, again and again, thousands of times a day, despite changes in appearance due to hair color or style, weight gain or loss, aging (my driver license photo is over 10 years old), changes in facial hair, etc etc.

  2. AndrewDover says

    >>> Third, if the Clear data is being destroyed, how do Flo and Preferred Traveler know anything to validate?

    People are validated against the biometrics on the smartcard, not against a database.

  3. bbarnes says

    My husband flew out of Jacksonville Airport this morning. The Preferred Travelerer line was gone with no explanation.