Clear, the company that lets members zoom through the airport security line using a fingerprint or retina scan, is pivoting to the public health sphere amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company has launched a new service called Health Pass by Clear, which is meant to screen for the virus before users congregate in a public space. The screening service has already launched on a trial basis at museums, restaurants, and sports arenas, with plans to keep extending to other venues.
“Clear was conceived in the wake of 9/11 to address a major public safety need and is stepping up to meet today’s public health crisis," Caryn Seidman-Becker, the company's CEO, said recently in a statement. As more cities and states look to reopen businesses safely while the COVID-19 outbreak rages on, many officials and business owners are searching for ways to screen citizens, customers, and employees for the virus.
Originally launched in May, Health Pass is an extension of Clear's mobile app. The service links COVID-19 related data like a health questionnaire and temperature check to assess whether someone is healthy enough to enter a certain venue. Additionally, the app has capability to link COVID-19 test results through partnerships with labs and, eventually, vaccination status. Users verify their identity with a selfie and load their information into the app. They then use a Clear scanning pod at the venue for a temperature scan and to upload their results, either by facial recognition or a QR code. The app only tells the venue owner whether the user passed or failed the health screening based on their individual requirements by showing a red or green light; it doesn't relay any health information.
Health Pass is already being used by companies in several cities. Earlier in July, the biometric screening company launched Health Pass trials with Founders Table, a restaurant group that owns chains such as Chopt and Dos Toros. Founders Table will be piloting the tech with 30 staff members across two of its locations that have reopened: a Chopt in Washington, D.C., and Dos Toros in New York City. Employees at both restaurant locations will use the Health Pass app for their daily health screenings before beginning work. Clear has also launched a three-month trial partnership with the 9/11 Museum in New York to use the app to screen its 450 staff for the virus as the museum reopens its outdoor grounds. (The interior of the museum remains closed.)
Most recently, the biometric data company launched its biggest Health Pass collaboration yet: a partnership with the National Hockey League to screen about 3,000 players, coaches, and other staff during the leagues' playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton, Canada. "Health Pass will be used across the NHL’s closed playoff ecosystems, helping ensure everyone coming into and moving across these hotels, venues, restaurants, and transportation is safe and healthy," Clear said in a statement. In each of the host cities, there will be more than 30 physical access points, featuring Clear's kiosks.
But this seems to be just the beginning for the new screening service. The company says Health Pass is in the process of being deployed to additional restaurants, retail shops, hotels, office buildings, airports, and arenas. "New partnerships are being announced every week," a Clear release said. “We are in conversations with different partners across industries, including with restaurateur Danny Meyer, the New York Mets, RXR, and the Las Vegas COVID-19 recovery task force,” Maria Comella, Clear's head of public affairs, told CNBC in June. Clear already has standing partnerships with 25 stadiums across the U.S. for quicker processing through security lines using fingerprint and retina scans—similar to the biometric product it has at 33 U.S. airports.
Although it's rolling out widely, Health Pass is not without its critics. Public health officials have noted that it would be easy for anyone to lie on similar health questionnaire, while privacy advocates decry the collection and use of health and biometric data on such a broad scale. Because it partially runs on facial recognition technology, still other critics point out the service could be biased against African Americans or other people of color for whom the tech works at a much lower accuracy rate.
"The issue for me is really centered around the lack of any kind of scientific attention that is addressing the proven racial inequities in facial recognition," says Glenn Ellis, a bioethicist who is a fellow at Harvard Medical School and visiting scholar at the Bioethics Center Tuskegee University. "To continue to push through the technology and integrate it into our society without acknowledging appropriately the clearly documented and thoroughly researched inequities and challenges in facial recognition for people of different ethnicities, I think is a totally unethical endeavor."
Federal lawmakers have posed these concerns to Clear executives. Shortly after the service rolled out in May, Senator Jeff Markley and Senator Cory Booker wrote to the company to seek answers to Health Pass's potential privacy and discrimination issues. In part, the senators probed Clear on how the company secured customers' information and how its assessed bias in its algorithm.
In a response to the letter, Seidman-Becker wrote that Clear considers “racial and gender equitability” when purchasing its algorithms from third-party providers, according to Recode, and noted that users' “biometric data is not shared with employers or venues, and our biometric tools are not themselves used as diagnostic tools.”
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