May 10, 2020 - Health

Exclusive: Biometric ID company CLEAR to offer coronavirus screening for businesses

Image of CLEAR airport security checkpoint

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The biometric ID company CLEAR is introducing a new product that will link personal health data to verified IDs to help businesses screen employees for COVID-19 as they return to work.

Why it matters: Before businesses can effectively reopen, workers and customers need to be assured that they're unlikely to encounter coronavirus infections. Linking COVID-19 to IDs could make that easier, but to be fully effective, it requires a more vigorous and reliable testing regimen, as well as public acceptance of a new level of tech-enabled health surveillance.

How it works: The company will roll out the product, called Health Pass by CLEAR, in the week ahead.

  • Users will be able to download the CLEAR app on their smartphones and enroll in the service for free by verifying their identity using facial recognition.
  • To enter a business or venue that employs Health Pass, users will snap a selfie to authenticate their identity and take a health quiz on possible COVID-19 symptoms. The company says that it plans for users to be able to link COVID-19 test results with their digital identity in the future.
  • Users will then approach a CLEAR pod for screening, where they can use their face or a QR code generated by the app to share their health data and verified ID. Based on the results — including a possible temperature check — they would either be admitted or rejected.

Background: CLEAR is best known for its airport service. Members, who pay $179 annually, give CLEAR personal biometric data — fingerprints as well as iris and facial scans — that is linked to their official ID. Members can skip security lines after a biometric scan — using iris scans first out of coronavirus concerns — confirms their identity.

What they're saying: "CLEAR’s trusted biometric identity platform was born out of 9/11 to help millions of travelers feel safe when flying," Maria Comella, the head of public affairs at CLEAR, tell Axios. "Now, CLEAR's touchless technology is able to connect identity to health insights to help people feel confident walking back into the office."

What's next: CLEAR says it is in conversations with potential business partners including the restauranteur Danny Meyer and the New York Mets, as well as Las Vegas' COVID-19 recovery task force.

  • CLEAR's Health Pass is one of a number of possible initiatives that would aim to give businesses the ability to screen workers and customers for COVID-19 using digital IDs and health data.
  • Chile is moving ahead with a plan to issue "release certificates" for citizens who recovered from COVID-19, and other nations may follow.

But, but, but: Services like Health Pass will need to prove their effectiveness and will carry risks to personal privacy.

  • There's no guarantee that a user will fill out a health quiz honestly, especially if the answers could mean the difference between being able to work or not. Temperature checks wouldn't necessarily catch the asymptomatic or those in the infectious period before symptoms set in. For its part, CLEAR sees Health Pass as a start that will evolve over time.
  • Linking such ID services directly to COVID-19 tests would improve their utility, but the U.S. is still a long way from being able to regularly and rapidly test much of the population. And the WHO has warned against offering "immunity passports" on the grounds that scientists still aren't sure that the recovered are protected against future infections.
  • Using the service would mean that COVID-19 health status would be connected to your digital ID, although the company says health information would not be shared with businesses — only a yes or no at screening.
  • While CLEAR says that the Health Pass would be opt in for users, it's difficult to see how truly voluntary any such system would be if it is mandated, as employers are already permitted to perform temperature checks.

The bottom line: Fully restarting the economy is going to require being able to clearly separate the vulnerable from the well. Digital ID services can accelerate that process, but we'll need to get used to a more invasive level of health surveillance.

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