(Update [1:25 p.m. EDT, June 26, 2009]: Clear customer service just sent a note to members answering my questions and more. I added it in full at the bottom of this post.)

Greg Sterling noted the end of Clear, the program that let travelers pay to register with biometrics in exchange for swifter passage through security at several major airports.

As a Clear card carrier for roughly two years now, I got word of the shutdown last night. My first concerns, as I posted to Greg in comments on his post, are:

  1. Do I have any prayer of a refund for unused months on my membership?
  2. What happens to my personally identifiable information and the biometrics Clear recorded when I registered for the program? If I destroy my smart card, does that make my info in Clear’s database untouchable?

I can't be the only customer with these concerns, but neither the curt “buh-bye” e-mail nor the company Web site offers any meaningful explanations on these matters. So I responded to the e-mail from Clear with both of these questions. Just now, more than 14 hours after my inquiry, I got an automated response that says, again, Clear is shutting down, nobody home, nothing to see here etc.

The tone is: “Moved, no forwarding address.” I realize the company ran out of money, and any remaining employees had perhaps scant warning that they would join the bread lines. Still, this episode seems worse than bad customer service: no attempt to address customers' concerns at all. The dead truly have no conscience in this case.

My concerns amount to little more than trees falling in an unpopulated forest. Fine. Lesson learned. But I will watch to see what the founders and investors in Clear do for their next great entrepreneurial acts, and take any of them with due caution before spending a dime on 'em.

E-mail from Clear customer service, dated June 26, 2009, 1:20 p.m. EDT:

Clear Member Update

Dear John Small,

In response to questions raised by our members, Clear would like to offer the following information:

Clear Lanes Are No Longer Available.

At 11:00 p.m. PST on June 22, 2009, Clear ceased operations. Clear's parent company, Verified Identity Pass, Inc., was unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations. Verified Identity Pass regrets that Clear will not be able to continue operations.

How is Clear securing personal information?

Clear stands by our commitment to protect our customer's personally identifiable information – including fingerprints, iris images, photos, names, addresses, credit card numbers and other personal information provided to us – and to keep the privacy promises that we have made. Information is secured in accordance with the Transportation Security Administration's Security, Privacy and Compliance Standards.

How is Clear securing any information at the airports?

Each hard disk at the airport, including the enrollment and verification kiosks, has now been wiped clean of all data and software. The triple wipe process we used automatically and completely overwrites the contents of the entire disk, including the operating system, the data and the file structure. This process also prevents or thoroughly hinders all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis.

How is Clear securing any information in central databases and corporate systems?

Lockheed Martin is the lead systems integrator for Clear, and is currently working with Verified Identity Pass, Inc. to ensure an orderly shutdown as the program closes. As Verified Identity Pass, Inc. and the Transportation Security Administration work through this process, Lockheed Martin remains committed to protecting the privacy of individuals' personal information provided for the Clear Registered Traveler program. Lockheed's work will also remain consistent with the Transportation Security Administration's federal requirements and the enhanced security and privacy requirements of Verified Identity Pass, Inc.

The computers that Verified Identity Pass, Inc. assigned to its former corporate employees are being wiped using the same process described for computers at the airports.

Will personally identifiable information be sold?

The personally identifiable information that customers provided to Clear may not be used for any purpose other than a Registered Traveler program operated by a Transportation Security Administration authorized service provider. Any new service provider would need to maintain personally identifiable information in accordance with the Transportation Security Administration's privacy and security requirements for Registered Traveler programs. If the information is not used for a Registered Traveler program, it will be deleted.

How will members be notified when information is deleted?

Clear intends to notify members in a final email message when the information is deleted.

Who is monitoring this process?

Clear is communicating with TSA, airport and airline sponsors, and subcontractors, to ensure that the security of the information and systems is maintained throughout the closure process. Clear thanks these partners for their continuing cooperation and diligence.

How can I contact Clear?

Please visit our website, www.flyclear.com, for the latest updates. Clear's call center and customer support email service are no longer available.

Will I receive a refund for membership in Clear?

At the present time, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. cannot issue refunds due to the company's financial condition.

Has Verified Identity Pass, Inc. filed for bankruptcy?

At the present time, Verified Identity Pass has not commenced any proceedings under the United States Bankruptcy Code.

Clear Customer Service

Clear, 600 Third Avenue 10th Floor, New York, NY 10016