Steven Brill, the banker's-collar-wearing founder of American Lawyer magazine and Court TV, had his eureka moment while researching his book on the aftermath of September 11. After being stopped umpteen times for ID at the White House, the FBI, the Treasury Department, and countless New York office buildings, Brill saw a chance to start not just a company but "the volunteer-credentialing industry," as he calls it. "After September 11, I knew there were going to be security bottlenecks in our lives—forever."
His solution: the Clear Card. Issued by Verified Identity Pass Inc., where Brill is CEO, the Clear Card costs $80 a year and requires an iris scan, a set of fingerprints, and a threat assessment by the Transportation Security Administration. Once you're cleared, you're eligible for private security checkpoints, sidestepping the hell of the modern airport experience. The first contract, with the Orlando airport, drew 13,000 members, and Verified recently won the San Jose, Sacramento, and Indianapolis airports as well.
Earlier this year, the TSA announced a national "Registered Traveler" program that presents a huge opportunity for Brill—and his rivals. Between slugs of Tab and drags on an unlit cigar, he concedes that competition is heating up. "People think we're going to have all of them," he says. "Our view: We won Orlando—and have to work harder for the next one." Brill estimates that in five years, he will have 3.5 million out of a market of 9 million "very frequent fliers" and that Verified will be profitable by 2008. Down the road, he thinks that even office buildings and sports arenas "will recognize our credentials the same way airports do. Unfortunately, the pace by which they recognize it depends on the next thing some bad guys do."
Ten years out, Brill says that "before doing a bank transaction, you will have instructed the bank to take a fingerprint and send it to us electronically. We will then verify electronically to the bank that it is you." Whether or not Clear wins this race, we're going to have something that looks a lot like it.