Is The Federal Government Outsourcing Airport Security at DFW?

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Yesterday, a company named Clear, which bills itself as "the nation's pre-eminent biometric secure ID program" announced that it will set up shop at DFW Airport's Terminal E on June 27. Says the news release, the company's "innovative biometric technology combined with members-only lanes allows travelers to speed through security, averaging five minutes or less. Travelers simply confirm their identity with the touch of a finger."

It works like this: Travelers register for the service at the company's website and pay $179. Then, instead of waiting with the masses in the security queue, they breeze through airport security via a lane reserved for Clear members.

But wait. How is Clear able to do this? Isn't airport security the job of the Transportation Security Administration? Does this mean the federal government is outsourcing its responsibility to a private company? I called DFW spokesman David Magana, who told me that a similar TSA program operated in other terminals but wasn't quite sure how Clear's arrangement works. He provided me the number of someone with Clear (the only one on their website is for customer service), for whom I left a message but haven't heard back. Local TSA spokesman Luis Casanova hadn't heard of the operation when I called but got back to me with a response a while later.

Our involvement is limited since it does not change our screening requirements except how they enter the checkpoint. Registered Traveler (Clear) program passengers receive the same level of screening as other passengers. RT simply enables a registered traveler provider to establish a separate checkpoint line and perform the boarding pass and passenger ID check.

Which was more information than I started with but still not really an answer. A March article in The New York Times provides a better one. Clear has been around for several years but went out of business in 2009. It was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2010, and recently, as part of aggressive expansion plans, has proposed a pilot program with the TSA. It uses iris and fingerprint biometrics to match a traveler with the encoded Clear card.

So the TSA is apparently OK with it, but what's in it for DFW? I mean besides what DFW Chief Executive Officer Jeff Fegan says in Clear's news release:

DFW Airport is focused on customer satisfaction, so we are always looking for new ways to improve the customer experience. The use of biometric technology is a great step forward. Adding the capability to speed up the security screening process is a frequent request we get from our customers. Implementing CLEAR at DFW is one way to speed up the process while continuing to ensure safety and security.

Per the Times, "airports have financial and logistical enticements to work with Clear. The company shares revenue from its members' fees with airports." Clear CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker said the Orlando airport netted around $1 million in the program's first year.

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