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Are biometrics a safe way to speed up airport security?

Clear CEO Caryn Seidman Becker answers all your privacy questions on the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask.

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Someone’s finger is scanned by a fingerprint scanner

If you’re reading this while stuck in an interminable TSA line at the airport: Sorry!

Everyone else: Caryn Seidman Becker wants to scan your finger. As the CEO of Clear, which she bought out of bankruptcy in 2010, she has overseen the company’s expansion beyond airport security into new venues, using encrypted scans of customers’ fingerprints and irises to authenticate them at several sports stadiums and — in some airports — at spots like the bag drop, airport lounges and the gate.

“You should take nothing out of your bag or your wallet when you go through the airport,” Seidman Becker said on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. “You are you and that’s what you’re trying to prove 10 times over at the ticketing gate, at the agent. That’s what we’re building.”

Of course, using these biological traits, or biometrics, to verify a person’s identity makes some people nervous. Seidman Becker stressed that everyone’s data is securely encrypted and that no one other than Clear has access to it.

“We do not sell or share your data,” she said. “That is rule one. What your biometrics are in that case is a frequent flyer number. All we’re sending to Delta is your frequent flyer number, which is doing a match with all the other things they have, and they send back a ticket.”

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On the new podcast, Seidman Becker also talked about why the company uses fingerprint and eyeball scans, but not facial recognition, at airports. Although it’s testing or using 3-D volumetric scanning in some places, Clear doesn’t currently think that technology can match the 99.999 percent accuracy rate of fingerprints.

“Facial, for the highest security purposes, is not ready for the ‘five nines,’” she said. “In busy areas, depending on the lighting, depending on various things, you still need multi-factor authentication for facial.”

In other words: You might have to also pull out your ID or scan your fingerprint, which would defeat the convenience of just scanning your face.

Looking toward the future, Seidman Becker said biometric security will be crucial for a lot of different industries — not just travel.

“When you think about health care, when you think about vehicles, you think about ‘you are your driver’s license, you are your insurance, you are your payment,’” she said. “In the connected, shared or autonomous vehicle, identity is the key.”

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