The Biometric Goliath Making Billions Streamlining Airport Security — But Now, It’s All At Risk – The Average Joe
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    The Biometric Goliath Making Billions Streamlining Airport Security — But Now, It’s All At Risk

    Noah Weidner

    April 28, 2024

    How early should you get to the airport? One hour before? Two hours before? What about waiting ‘til the last minute? Thanks to expedited screening services such as TSA PreCheck and CLEAR, millions of Americans can now do just that (though we still recommend getting there early). The two paid services can save you time in the security line — but when used together, they can help avid fliers skip security lines entirely.

    All CLEAR? For over a decade, CLEAR Secure ($YOU) has let travelers bypass security lines for an annual fee of $189. The service has exploded in popularity, boasting over 6.7M active members thanks to its partnership with American Express ($AXP) — representing ~10% of travelers at 56 airports. That success made it ubiquitous, profitable — and controversial. Despite its revenue growth of 40% to $613M last year — allowing it to pay a special dividend and buy back millions in stock — a series of recent security hiccups threaten to undermine the platform’s usefulness.

    • CLEAR faced two serious security incidents last year, drawing criticism from lawmakers and even the TSA itself, calling it “vulnerable to abuse.”
    • As a result, the TSA required CLEAR to conduct more random ID checks — slowing lines, frustrating customers, and leading to declined member retention for five consecutive quarters.

    California’s controversy

    Slate and others have criticized CLEAR for charging to skip lines, exploiting biometric data, and disrupting the function of US airports. Those complaints are being received by more credible policymakers, especially after the company’s recent controversies.

    • The California State Senate is advancing a bill that would force CLEAR users into separate lines.
    • Although the proposed bill is popular with the flight attendants’ and TSA officers’ union, airlines are resistant — warning that it could “further increase air carrier operating costs in the state.”

    Planning for the future: Sen. Josh Newman sponsors the bill, which could impact CLEAR’s main benefit — or be a precursor to more aggressive moves against the company. Some argue that services like CLEAR aren’t safe for aviation, prompting CLEAR to expand into arenas and stadiums and partner with LinkedIn for identity verification. Only time will tell if these ventures will match its core business success.

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