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Terrorists Can be VIPs Too!

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March 24, 2008

The federal government has given Americans few reasons to trust it lately. From warrantless wiretapping to the surreptitious establishment of Total Information Awareness, the government is doing everything it can to keep a close eye on its citizens; it’s no coincidence that a retinal scan is part of this effort.

Today The Washington Post reported on the nascent success of the Clear Card program, a TSA-approved system to get frequent, moneyed travelers to fork over $128, lots of personal data like passport number and citizenship status, their fingerprints and a scan of their retinas to breeze past certain airport security checkpoints.

Between government overreaching and government bumbling, giving the government’s contractor in this scheme, Verified Identity Pass (VIP, get it?), all of this highly personal data and trusting they won’t sell you out to the highest bidder is an act of faith in every sense. To us, this system seems to be more about the Feds enabling VIP to make a quick buck from travelers frustrated with the TSA’s feeble, time-consuming attempts at airport passenger screening.

Most importantly, such a system as Clear Card does not make travelers any safer from terrorism in the skies. Similar identity-based security systems like Registered Traveler have proven that the more loopholes you put out there to make security easier, the easier it is for terrorists to exploit those holes.

Ignoring that the likelihood of another attack via airplanes is very low (see the Madrid train bombings and Bali nightclub suicide attack), like the TSA watchlist, the Clear Card system can’t catch unknown terrorists. A terrorist organization isn’t going to send a known terrorist, whose name is already on the TSA watchlist, to get on a plane; they’d almost certainly be caught. Rather they’d send an unknown terrorist to get on the plane; someone who could very easily be approved by the Clear Card system.

The terrorists can probably scrape together $128, too.

And given the wild success of the TSA’s airport watchlist – as you’re reading this, the number of names on the list is steadily creeping toward 1 million-it’s hard to know the true quality of the background checks companies like VIP are conducting on Clear Card applicants. To wit: What kind of background checks would have eliminated an “all-American” military veteran like Timothy McVeigh – or legal immigrants with clean records like many of the terrorists of September 11?

In addition, people who participate in programs such as Clear Card are likely wasting their money and giving up their private information for naught: after all, frequent travelers are often privy to perks like bypassing some security checks via frequent flier programs through their airlines – benefits that don’t require fingerprinting and retinal scans.

Rather than being an impediment to terrorism, programs like Clear Card are a welcome mat.