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Is Clear a present danger for football fans?

So-called security enhancements at pro football games may create more danger instead.

Clear, a program approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration that lets frequent fliers bypass airport security lines, is now being used to let football fans bypass the security lines at pro football games.

Deals are kicking off this fall at home games for the San Francisco 49ers, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Denver Broncos.

Clear, the largest of four Registered Traveler programs operating at U.S. airports, isn't run by the TSA. It's a private service of Verified Identity Pass (VIP).

Clear card
The Clear card Verified Identity Pass

Doesn't it seem like VIP is leveraging its privileged position in airport security--a position established in cooperation with a federal agency--to enhance its position in private security?

Doesn't it seem to trivialize the program to use it for sporting events? Or conversely, doesn't bringing fingerprint and iris scanners to football games seem to overestimate the risk of terrorism at such events?

And if this is just the next step in a strategy to expand VIP's involvement in private security, how far will it go?

Is VIP now talking with movie theaters? Shopping malls? How many more places will be giving us a choice between longer security lines or giving up some of our privacy?

It also bothers me that the Clear program is clearly not good for security. At best (at best!), it's a way to bypass security lines for a fee. At worst, it's a way for terrorists to bypass security entirely.

Although the Clear program puts applicants through a background check, it's a fairly trivial check of criminal and other records. The fact is that many of the terrorists involved in some of the worst attacks of the last 20 years would surely have qualified for a Clear card.

Update, September 24: this background check is no longer performed. Anyone can get a Clear card as long as they have two forms of government identification. See my followup post, "Is Clear worth anything at all?"

At airports, one hopes that the TSA security officers give the same scrutiny to Clear's patrons that they give to everyone else. At least, that's what TSA administrator Kip Hawley said in a July 2007 interview with security expert Bruce Schneier.

But when the Clear program is extended to football stadiums and possibly other locations, where security is provided by relatively untrained and often part-time personnel, it's inevitable that people going through the Clear line will get less attention.

So I think the conclusion is inescapable: stadiums with Clear lines are less safe than those without.

VIP executives may have visions of Clear-based security lines everywhere people gather, but in my opinion, they aren't thinking clearly.