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CLEAR: Biometrics at the Airport

The careful process to ensure better security in airports and on the planes themselves is slow. However, the TSA, along with private industry is working to speed up the process by allowing passengers to voluntarily join the Registered Traveler program, undergo background screening and provide various pieces of biometric data, the results of which allow “cleared” passengers to move more quickly through the security process.

The TSA has listed eight service providers that have met the minimum criteria to offer their services to airports. By far the largest and most prominent service provider is Verified Identity Pass Inc., program founders and developers of the widely adopted CLEAR® program. Other “private” industry players include Lockheed Martin and the security division of General Electric, GE Security.

Jason Slibeck, chief technology officer for Verified Identity Pass, said, “Instead of treating everyone as an anonymous traveler, there should be some value in identifying people who get on the plane. And the best way to do that was to use biometrics as a way to recognize those people who would volunteer to be part of a program that would issue a biometric credential. You would get the advantages of a biometric program, meaning you very clearly identify who those people are with a high degree of accuracy, a low degree of false positives, and you do it voluntarily, so it’s not mandatory program. It’s not anything that anyone is forced to do or something that prevents people from flying.

In 2004, TSA launched a series of pilot programs to demonstrate various pieces of screening technology. Slibeck said, “They weren’t interoperable. They tried different solutions as a proof of concept.” In June 2005, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority got permission and cooperation from the TSA to establish the first privately run registered traveler program.

Verified Identity Pass, along with heavy lifting partner Lockheed Martin, won the contract. Seven weeks later, CLEAR was speeding passengers through a special lane for its members, while regular passengers waited to be herded through the common process. Less than 5 months after it started, nearly 13,000 passengers had submitted background information and biometric data to be cleared in Orlando alone.

Currently, Verified Identity Pass operates at 15 airports, with Unisys and Vigilant operating at airports one or two apiece. Because of system interoperability, a passenger can complete the process at any airport with any of the Registered Traveler service providers and have a reasonable expectation that they will be allowed to pass more quickly through security at any participating airport.


The CLEAR process begins online. After creating an account like any other subscription service (contact information and your credit card information for billing) you then fill out the background information required by TSA to conduct its security threat assessment. The next step of the process is at the airport at a CLEAR kiosk.

At the airport, document authentication technology reduces the chance of fraudulent documents being used to establish a link between the person who completed the online process and the person standing at the CLEAR kiosk. Once identity has been verified, biometric data is collected, including a facial picture, an iris scan of both eyes, and all 10 fingerprints. All biometrics are captured using international standards.

CLEAR personnel will assist customers in choosing a good clear biometric for later verification matching. While many customers are more familiar with fingerprints and chose them as their biometric of choice, the iris is also very popular, with some members later choosing to switch to that option. Another important area concerning biometrics is the quality of enrollment. Slibeck said, “We make sure we have a really high quality of enrollment because we trying to focus on the service experience of verification. And the best way to get a good match at verification is to make sure the enrollment biometric is a really high-quality biometric capture.”

Once the information is secure and encrypted, it is sent back to a Lockheed Martin secured hosting facility. From there, it is sent to the TSA for a security threat assessment. The security threat assessment says that you are either “approved” or “not approved.” Slibeck said, “If they approve you for the program, they will send that message back to us, we will take a subset of that information and put it on the CLEAR card. That subset is really four high-quality fingerprint templates, two polar iris images, your picture and your legal name. So it’s a very small amount of data. And it’s also secure and encrypted and protected. And that’s what goes on your CLEAR card.”

Once you receive your CLEAR card, you can use it at any Registered Traveler lane at any participating airport. When a card is presented, it is also evaluated by TSA to make sure it has not been revoked. It is an ongoing, real-time assessment. TSA constantly evaluates updates its “cleared list” to ensure that every registered traveler continues to have a clear security threat assessment.

According to Richard Des Engants, CLEAR operations manager, Indianapolis, “When you come to the verification lane, you put your CLEAR card in the kiosk, you present whatever was selected as your primary biometric, you do a one-to-one match against the information that’s on your CLEAR card.”

Slibeck takes a look into a future where security systems are more robust and much more passive. “We are working with GE Security to introduce new technology like explosive detection that would allow you to keep your shoes when you are going through the lane or to keep your jacket on.”

“GE is working on the SRT Kiosk, which provides explosive detection a couple of different ways. It looks particularly at the shoes and can indicate the differences between a shoe shank, which is supposed to be in the shoe, and a threat metal item. Some of the more interesting things I have seen are what I would classify as faster, better implementation of current biometric technology. For instance, systems that don’t require you to stop to collect the biometric information such as Iris on the Move. You just look at a camera while you are walking down a hallway. There’s no stop required for identification.”

Verified Identity Pass, CEO and founder, Steven Brill said the tipping point has been achieved for the CLEAR program. Within a few years, he said, most airports will have CLEAR and other Registered Traveler lanes. Talk is already in the works for International Traveler programs with Canada and the UK.

Already the world’s largest voluntary credentialing program and the only one using open standards for biometrics, the CLEAR program will introduce an entire generation of people to the world of biometrics. And once additional technologies are added, the day may still come when you walk into an airport and walk directly onto your plane without ever noticing the interoperable, passive biometric security.

Thomas M. Manson is the owner of Police Technical LLC and the technology editor for LAW and ORDER magazine. He speaks nationally on technology and law enforcement. He can be reached at tmanson@

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2008

Rating : 8.0

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