Illustrations: Félix Decombat

Our Economy Was Just Blasted Years Into the Future

The crisis is compressing and accelerating trends that would have taken decades to play out

Steve LeVine
Published in
10 min readMay 26, 2020

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In 2010, two former New York hedge fund investors paid $5.8 million to buy Clear, a biometric identification firm that had gone bust in the fallout of a lost laptop containing the unencrypted personal data of 33,000 people. Caryn Seidman Becker and Ken Cornick were certain they could revive the company’s fortunes and earn tons of money whisking people through aggravating airport security lines based on scans of their irises and fingerprints.

To a degree, they were right. Just two years later, the Department of Homeland Security recognized them as a “qualified anti-terrorism” firm, and they quadrupled their clientele, expanding into security, along with age-verified beer sales at major sporting events. Clear says it has turned a profit since 2017.

But that was all before Covid-19.

Last week, Seidman Becker launched Clear into a brand new digital space — “touchless technology,” a play built around the fear that the coronavirus may lurk on any surface, anywhere. Against this threat, airports are deploying a new level of security including thermal cameras, all but assuring exceptionally long lines once people resume flying. Seidman Becker is responding with hands-free navigation: Clear will upload its clients’ Covid-19 test results, ID, air tickets, credit card, and health quiz. This, along with iris and face scans, will allow them to pass through the new phalanx faster.

It is an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime, super-charging event for companies such as Clear and its surveillance rivals, rebranding themselves while becoming an answer for companies, offices, and agencies everywhere contemplating how to safely reopen.

The concept is now spreading well beyond the airport. Clear, along with Swiftlane and Envoy, are among the companies that have begun to offer similar services to office buildings. They say the technology is deployable anywhere someone needs to prove identity or take out their wallet to pay…

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Steve LeVine
Marker
Writer for

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.