CLEAR 'registered traveler' program tries for a comeback

May 4, 2010 -- Remember the CLEAR "registered traveler" program? It's coming back.

A company called Alclear LLC announced today that it has purchased the assets of the bankrupt Verified Identity Pass Inc. with plans to relaunch the CLEAR program. Primarily the assets include the customer database, the brand and the kiosks that Verified Identity Pass Inc. used at airports. The purchase was valued at roughly $6 million.

The CLEAR program used a biometrics-based enrollment that allowed travelers willing to pay an annual fee to have access to shorter security lines. The program went bankrupt in June 2009, and did not issue refunds to the customers of the program. At bankruptcy, the program was said to have between 160,000 and 260,000 customers.

Now, the company has reorganized with a board that features heavyweights in the industry. On the board of directors for the relaunch of CLEAR are Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, former L3 Homeland Security Group President and COO Craig Coy (now CEO for Massachusetts Port Authority), and L-1 Identity Solutions' Chairman and President Robert LaPenta.

The most "inside" member of this board may be Chertoff himself, who questioned the need for a government-operated program like CLEAR at an aviation security roundtable in 2008, where he said "The government shouldn't be advantaging the economically well-off in the air travel. We should be limiting ourselves to focusing on security and values."

Instead of advocating a government-operated program, Chertoff came out clearly on the side of a privately operated program for Registered Traveler (sometimes also called Trusted Traveler). In that same 2008 roundtable, when he was serving as DHS Secretary, Chertoff said: "A separate issue is some private vendors work out deals with the airports where if you join their program you get a special line. That's like a VIP program. That's really not a security issue. That's auctioning off scarce rents issue, which is a business issue. It's not a government issue."

The spokesperson for the new CLEAR said in a New York Times article that the firm had a great deal of work to do in rebuilding relationships with airports and its customers. "We know customers were left holding the bag," co-founder of the new CLEAR Caryn Seidman-Becker told the New York Times.

A class-action lawsuit from former CLEAR members unhappy with not obtaining a refund was tossed out during bankruptcy proceedings. A message on CLEAR's website says the company will honor the remaining contractual terms for which prior members had already paid.