SF facial recognition ban could leave wrong impression. Millions are even paying to be scanned

Opponents of facial recognition technology scored a victory this week when San Francisco voted to ban use of the biometric security technique in law enforcement. But don’t let that leave you with the impression that the U.S. public is raising its eyes rather than lining up to have their bodies scanned.

CLEAR, a biometric security company that many travelers are coming across in airports, is experiencing its most rapid growth, the CEO of the company told CNBC on Wednesday. It took CLEAR seven years — and one acquisition out of bankruptcy — to get to its first 1 million subscribers. In the past eight and a half months, Clear has added another 1 million members; the 1 million users before the most recent — which brings the company to a total biometric base of 3 million — came in a period of just under one year.

“So that’s the hockey stick you map out when you start a company,” said CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman Becker, referring to the shape of the growth curve. “It’s happening.”

The New York City-based company, which launched in 2010, uses biometrics (your fingerprint, the iris of your eyes, your face) for identity verification. CLEAR ranked No. 22 on the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50 list.

Seidman Becker said that while airport security is the use case that most people know for its $180-per-year service, CLEAR has expanded into additional ID replacements, and there will be more from retail and gaming to health care.

In August, CLEAR launched a biometric payment and age validation service.

Beer and cigs

The company already handles biometric beer sales in Seattle sports venues, including Seahawks and Mariners games. “Your fingerprint are your age and credit card,” she said.

Fans at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and T-Mobile Arena also can buy food with the tap of a finger, which the company said is the first biometric replacement for a government-issued ID in the U.S.

The company has its eye on e-cigarettes and online gaming. “Age validation in e-cigarettes and beer and online gaming … is crucial to creating safe experiences. We think there are huge opportunities there. … We believe any place where you are whipping out a wallet and taking out a card to prove that you are you is a place where CLEAR has big opportunities,” Seidman Becker said.

CLEAR is approved by the U.S. government as a qualified antiterrorism technology with the Department of Homeland Security.

In response to the San Francisco ban on facial recognition technology by law enforcement, announced this week, CLEAR said that the company starts with the premise that biometrics makes homeland security safer and the customer experience safer and better.

“People now expect a frictionless experience,” Seidman Becker said. “Outside the airport, you can call an Uber or Lyft without waiting for a taxi. It’s that feeling of control.”

Voice recognition is next

In addition to its existing facial recognition, and iris and fingerprint scanning, CLEAR thinks voice recognition will be next in biometric security. “We think voice is coming,” she said.

As the public embraces more passive forms of biometric screening, like facial recognition and voice — versus fingerprints, for example — Seidman Becker said it is really important that customers opt in and know exactly what they are opting in for and where there data will be.

Because it is reviewed by federal agencies, CLEAR encrypts data at a high level of cybersecurity, she said.

“The fact that we are a qualified antiterrorism technology with Homeland Security means we have built everything focused on security from day one,” Seidman Becker said.

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