SAN FRANCISCO --
A laptop computer containing personal information from 33,000 travelers who applied to a program for bypassing airport security lines was probably stolen and returned, not just misplaced, investigators said Monday.
The Transportation Security Administration announced last week that it had suspended new enrollments to the program, known as Clear, after the unencrypted computer disappeared from a locked office at San Francisco International Airport.
The day after TSA's announcement, the laptop reappeared in a locked cabinet in the same office.
Verified Identity Pass Inc., which runs the Clear program, said at the time that the company did not know whether its computer had been stolen or just overlooked.
Investigators are now treating the disappearance as a theft and are interviewing Verified Identity Pass employees to figure out who took the laptop and why, said San Mateo County Sheriff's Sgt. Wes Matsuura.
It was "highly doubtful" that a random member of the public swiped the computer, then returned it to the locked office, Matsuura said.
The Clear program allows passengers to pay to use special "fast lanes" to avoid long lines at airport security checkpoints. They still must undergo normal security screenings once they reach the checkpoint.
The laptop contained applicants' birth dates and, in some cases, driver's license, passport or green card numbers, but not Social Security or credit card numbers, the company said.
Verified Identity Pass is fully cooperating with the investigation, spokeswoman Allison Beer said.
The TSA is examining the machine to determine whether anyone tried to access the personal information. The federal agency also announced Monday it was allowing Verified Identity Pass to begin enrolling customers in the Clear program again after showing that company computers met data encryption standards.