Clear suspended following SFO laptop theft

August 5, 2008 12:01:13 AM PDT
A stolen laptop has prompted administrators of a popular airport program to implement new security measures. The computer was stolen over the weekend at San Francisco International and thousands of passengers' personal records were taken along with it.

For the past year, travelers at SFO have had the option to enroll in the Clear Registered Traveler Program. Those who sign up get a biometric ID card, which allows them to bypass regular security lines for $128 a year.

"It doesn't matter when I come in I know it's always going to be fast," said Caroline Senne, a traveler.

Over the weekend, the popular program ran into a security breach. Someone entered the Clear office at SFO and stole a laptop computer. It contained records of 33,000 applicants. Information included names, addresses, birthdates, and in some cases, driver's license and passport numbers.

"There is a very bad sense of irony here, that a company entrusted in this kind of information or with this kind of information, somehow had a laptop computer stolen from its offices here," said Henry Harteveldt, an airline industry analyst from Forrester Research.

The company says the thief would have to bypass two separate passwords to obtain any personal information. Even so, the Transportation Security Administration is temporarily prohibiting new customers from enrolling in the Clear program.

No telling how long the enrollment process will be suspended, the TSA says it will depend on how long it will take for the company that runs Clear to notify its applicants and improve the security on its computers.

"Basically what we're doing is we're downloading new software into all our laptops at the airports, more encrypted and revisiting all the enrollment procedures here," said David Pfeiffer, the Clear general manager.

Clear customers say the sooner the changes are made the better, although no one seemed too worried about the security breach.

"You're information is everywhere and people volunteer their information on places like Facebook, on Twitter, on MySpace and stuff," said Giovanni Galluci, a traveler.

"I guess this is just one of many ways that people can get our information. I mean you hear about it all the time, laptops being stolen," said Scott Buttles, a traveler.

As for who stole the laptop in the first place, authorities are still investigating. There were no apparent signs of a break-in.


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