The 2020 White House contest has yet to be certified, but one of former Vice President Joe Biden’s donors is already set to reap a large political reward.
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a markup on the Registered Traveler Act of 2020. The legislation, if enacted, would create a new registered traveler program that allows certain private sector companies to assume responsibility for the passenger screening process at airports. Such duties have generally been handled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure that not only the proper security protocols are followed, but that also private passenger information is kept secure.
Although proponents of the legislation have argued that it will increase efficiency and reduce wait times at airports, the bill is written in a way that ensures only one company will be able to qualify to take over the passenger screening process if privatization was to occur. That company, CLEAR, is a leading provider of express airport check-ins, operating already out of 35 airports. It provides customers, for an annual fee, priority identity verification as well as line-skipping privileges at select airports. CLEAR, which is heavily regulated by the TSA, is currently the only private company partnering with airports for such services, according to Bloomberg News.
If the Registered Traveler Act is passed, however, CLEAR’s role in the passenger screening process will expand significantly. Under the guidelines of the bill, CLEAR would not only conduct identify verification at airports, but also be allowed to ascertain the risk levels of passengers and direct them to the appropriate security lanes. To do so, CLEAR would be given access to the TSA’s flight database records and the corresponding passenger information logs.
Given that private personal information would become public to companies such as CLEAR, the Act has drawn the opposition of not only civil liberties groups but national security outfits, including the TSA.
“If enacted, this legislation would place the critical transportation and national security function of ensuring passengers are appropriately screened in the hands of private firms that are not directly accountable to the U.S. Government,” TSA administrator David Pekoske wrote in a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year.
While much of the attention being paid to the bill has been on national security and privacy concerns, few have noted that CLEAR chief executive officer, Caryn Seidman-Becker, is a well-connected political donor. A former venture capital executive, Seidman-Becker has not only maxed out to Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign but other highly influential politicians in Washington, DC.
As Federal Election Commission records show, at least two of those elected officials, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) are co-sponsors of the Registered Traveler Act. Last year, Seidman-Becker donated the maximum donation possible ($2,800) to both senators, despite neither Rosen nor Sinema being up for reelection until 2024.
Neither the Biden campaign nor Rosen or Sinema’s office returned requests for comment on this story.