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Free membership to TSA Registered Traveler

Membership to TSA's Registered Traveler program can now be gotten for free. However even at that price, is it worth it?

For the last few years, frequent travelers have had the option to sacrifice their privacy (as well as some money) for speed at the airport. Now, thanks to some keen deal-spotting by bloggers, passengers can skip to the front of the airport security line for free. The question to be asked is: even when such services are free, are they worth the price?

Courtesy CLEAR/Verified Identity Pass

Verified Identity Pass is one of three companies that participate in TSA's Registered Traveler program. The company offers separate lines leading to TSA checkpoints for its subscribers. Passengers passing through one of these lines get to skip to the front of TSA's security checkpoint -- although they still must take off their shoes and belts.

Verified Identity Pass, and its CLEAR program, has been the subject of much hype since its launch a couple years ago . However, it has received quite a bit of criticism from the security community, as well as from TSA's head honcho Kip Hawley. In a statement last year explaining why CLEAR customers still had to take off their shoes and belts, Hawley told Congress:

"The technology is not yet there to provide significant screening benefits to members," Hawley said today before the House Committee on Homeland Security, adding that providers need to tweak such systems before TSA grants full approval. He did not specify the modifications TSA seeks.

Passengers wishing to join the CLEAR program will need to fork over $100 per year, plus $28 for the background check that TSA will run. As part of the application, customers are asked for their social security and drivers license numbers, although these are clearly marked as optional information.

The real sticking point, at least for me, is that passengers are required to give up a copy of their fingerprints and a retina scan. This information will then be used to authenticate you when you go through a CLEAR checkpoint. Of course, should the FBI write a national security letter and decide that it would also like a copy of that biometric information, Verified Identity Pass will be forced to hand it over. Creepy.

Thanks to some keen spotting by Gary over at View from the Wing, suckers passengers willing to hand over this information to a central database can now join CLEAR for free, at least for the first year.

First: go and sign up to be a member of the Hyatt Hotels Platinum Program (valid until March 31).

Second: with your new Hyatt platinum number in hand, go over to the CLEAR site and sign up for a one year free membership.

I've thought it over, and even when it's free, I still can't convince myself that it's a good idea to do this. However, for those of you who fly frequently (or who have been arrested before, and thus already have your paw-prints on file), perhaps you may find this useful.

For those more adventurous travelers, as I've discussed before, there is another way to jump to the front of the security line - refuse to show ID.