Clear Card Holders Jump Airport Security Lines

Today’s WaPo has a short feature on Clear Cards, whereby travelers get to bypass TSA security lines at select airports for a small fee.

Clear Card Holders Jump Airport Security Lines For $128 a year, jet-setters can let a scanner test fingerprints. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post) Fast-pass security lanes officially opened at Reagan National and Dulles airports Wednesday for travelers with special clearance.

Heres how it works: Fliers undergo a Transportation Security Administration background check and have personal data, plus iris and fingerprint scans, put on a card. Although the fliers still have to remove their shoes and get carry-ons X-rayed, at certain airports the cards let them skip the lines that everyone else endures.

As of Wednesday, 3,500 Washington area travelers had signed up for a Clear card, which costs $128 a year.

My wife and I flew out of Reagan Thursday afternoon and noticed the new lines which, for now at least, are noticeably shorter. Given that we fly quite often and can afford the $128 we’ll almost certainly get them, although enough people in the DC area fit that description that I wouldn’t be surprised if the standard lines don’t soon become shorter.

It is, however, a questionable concept. The government requires that people give up their 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches in order to fly on commercial airlines on the grounds that they have no idea which of us are potentially terrorists. The government then charges a fee to allow people to prove that they’re not criminals and skip part of the line. There’s something vaguely un-American about this.

This is compounded by the fact that the government doesn’t allow people with military ID or who otherwise have actual security clearances to bypass said lines, which leads me to think that this is about collecting the $128 rather than ensuring security. That view is enhanced by the fact that no security check that could be accomplished for $128 will do anything other than demonstrate that the person in question is not a wanted felon or on a terrorist watch list. That’s a screening that all of the 9/11 hijackers would have passed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    This is the same argument used for taking public roads and making them HOT. It’s the same concept of taking public assets and transferring them to private enterprise for the stated purpose of “improving public access,” but in reality only for making money. FWIW, I think the proposed HOT lanes on the beltway and I-395 will be a disaster.

  2. Anon says:

    I don’t quite understand this, though. It is the taking off of shoes and the X-ray machine that is the bottleneck. If that still has to be done, then the only reason that the Clear Card lanes would be faster is the devotion of more resources to those lanes.

  3. John Burgess says:

    James: I have to disagree. I gave up (as did you) considerable of our 4th Amendment rights when we sought security clearances. Background checks were considerably more thorough than what’s being required of Clear Card applicants.

    We both sought a benefit (a particular kind of job that required clearance) and accepted the price (ferreting into our pasts, our associations, our moral and/or criminal behaviors).

    Clear Card offers a somewhat similar benefit–not worth $128 for me as I’m not traveling as much as I used to do.

  4. James Joyner says:

    the only reason that the Clear Card lanes would be faster is the devotion of more resources to those lanes.

    Actually, it’s just fewer people eligible for those lanes. The same reason that fast-track for 1st Class passengers is quicker.

    I gave up (as did you) considerable of our 4th Amendment rights when we sought security clearances.

    Sure. But we were seeking to be commissioned officers of our government, not exercising our rights as free citizens to travel.

  5. alkali says:

    Note that the Clear card is offered by a private company — Verified Identity Pass, Inc. — founded by Steven Brill, formerly publisher of the American Lawyer and Brill’s Content magazines. So there is definitely a profit built in to that fee. (For what it’s worth, I have a Clear card myself, but am not affiliated in any way with the company.)

  6. Anon says:

    Actually, it’s just fewer people eligible for those lanes. The same reason that fast-track for 1st Class passengers is quicker.

    Yes, I should have written: “more resources per passenger”, rather than “more resources for those lanes”.

    So this means that the Clear Card procedure is just a way of reducing the number of people eligible for some lanes, to those willing to pay. They might as well just say: “if you are willing to donate $128 to charity XYZ, we will allow you to use a special lane with fewer people”. That might at least put the money to good use.

    This is significantly different from the other interpretation of this program, which is that by “pre-screening” people ahead of time, operations at the security checkpoint can be streamlined in some effective way.

  7. Mark Jaquith says:

    There’s something vaguely un-American about this.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with it if airport security wasn’t government mandated and was completely privatized (i.e. airport policy, no TSA goons).