- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) | Verified Identity Pass, a company that promised to speed passengers through airport security checkpoints for an annual fee, has shut down, leaving some frequent fliers looking for how to avoid long screening lines and wondering what will happen to the personal information and money they gave the company.

The company said it wasn’t able to negotiate a deal with its creditors, and its Clear fast-lane security check service stopped operations abruptly late Monday. More than a quarter-million customers won’t get refunds of membership fees that ranged from $178 to $199 per year.

“At the present time, because of its financial condition, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. cannot issue refunds,” the company said on its Web site, www.flyclear.com.

Some members received e-mails about the closure, while others found out at the airport when they discovered Clear lanes were cordoned off.

Lois Easton, an education consultant from Boulder, Colo., was turned away by two TSA officials Tuesday morning from a Clear lane at Denver International Airport. She was headed on a 10-day business trip with stops in Newark, N.J., and Tallahassee, Fla.

“I did buy a three-year membership, so I’m not very happy about all of this,” Ms. Easton said. Nearby, workers were dismantling three Clear screening machines.

“I travel a lot for business, often every week,” Ms. Easton added. “It’s in enough of the airports I’m in so it’s worth it. It saves me a lot of time, a lot of stress.”

Clear was founded in 2003 by Steven Brill, the businessman behind media ventures such as CourtTV and American Lawyer magazine. It originated with a program set up by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) called Registered Traveler, intended to shrink swollen security lines in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Clear operated at about 20 airports.

But in a statement Tuesday, the TSA seemed to distance itself from the venture.

“The Clear program was a market-driven, private-sector venture offered in partnership with airports and airlines in certain locations,” TSA spokesman Jonathan Allen said. He offered no further comment.

Mr. Brill, who left the company in February when a group of investors took control, didn’t provide any specifics about why the company shut down.

“I can only speculate about the causes of the company’s demise,” he said. “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.”

The TSA tried to balance the desire to cut wait times and ease travelers’ stress with the importance of ensuring proper screening, but it still required travelers to go through the same security procedures as everyone else in line.

Now that the service is defunct, some wonder what will happen to the personal information held by Verified. The company’s Clear service required members’ fingerprints, iris scans and other identifying traits.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Chuck Allen, 49, of Duluth, Ga., said he is concerned about all the personal information he released to get his Clear membership card.

“Who owns that now?” he asked. “The scary thing is, I wonder if [all of my information is] up for sale. I mean, who knows?”

The company said on its Web site that all personal data has been secured according to TSA standards. It said it “will continue to secure such information and will take appropriate steps to delete the information.”

Now that the company is no longer in operation, it could file for bankruptcy protection, and creditors at a future hearing could argue that the personal information has value and should be sold to pay creditors.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said Clear customers should be protected by the courts to ensure that their information is not sold or transferred.

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