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A couple of times airport staff in SF/NY have tried to enroll me in CLEAR. I'm on a visa (O1), but I have a California ID card, so I should be eligible. That's at least what the staff has told me every time. CLEAR is useful for me, since I fly often and am not eligible for TSA Pre or Global Entry.

However, each time I've tried, the following thing happen after scanning my fingerprints and retinas: The registration machine starts asking me weird questions on the form "which of the following places have you ever lived" with a bunch of places I've never heard of. (I Googled them afterward, and they were all in the NY/Jersey area). And "which of the following phone numbers have you had in the past", and they were all (570) numbers, which is apparently Pennsylvania.

I have to keep answering "None of the above" and the CLEAR person eventually gets annoyed and says something like "we can't register you if you keep not answering the questions". I don't understand what's going on.

Does this happen to anyone else? Is this the machine being confused? Is it a sign somebody in the NY/Pennsylvania area is impersonating me? Or is it simply a sign that being on a visa is not enough, and CLEAR only works for permanent citizens?

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    Fingerprint and retina matching are not 100% fool-proof technologies. I have absolutely no specific knowledge about the CLEAR registration process, but from what you are describing, I would not be surprised if the system believes that your biometric data matches someone else. May 12, 2023 at 16:12
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    "CLEAR is currently only available to US citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older with a valid government-issued photo ID." - If you're on an O1 visa then I think you're not an LPR so possibly not eligible for CLEAR
    – Midavalo
    May 12, 2023 at 16:18
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    You are answering the questions.
    – user253751
    May 12, 2023 at 17:26
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo: The questions come from public databases (and maybe some private ones too) with information like property ownership records, bank accounts, etc., which has data like name and birthdate, but certainly not fingerprints or retina scans (see my answer). May 12, 2023 at 20:31
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    One fundamental problem with these identity checks is that all databases have errors, so the expected answer might not be the correct answer. I had this problem when the big three credit reporting agencies all listed an address where I'd never lived as one of my former addresses. There being little else to draw on, every check included a question about this address, which I consistently answered "incorrectly" until I learned of the error. I notified all three agencies about the error, but none of them would remove it. May 15, 2023 at 15:03

3 Answers 3

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Officially, CLEAR is only supposed to be available to US citizens and permanent residents:

CLEAR is currently only available to US citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older with a valid government-issued photo ID.

I imagine the reason for the weird questions is that CLEAR is doing a lookup for a "Thomas Ahle" who is a citizen/resident, finds someone with a similar name, and then tries to verify that you're that person. I've registered for CLEAR before as a permanent resident and the questions were all relevant to my identity.

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    Supposedly they updated it to "allow non-U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents to enroll in the program" the support page clearme.com/support?*=Who+can+become+a+CLEAR+Plus+member just says "Individuals 18 years of age and older can enroll in CLEAR Plus. To enroll must have one of the following forms of photo identification: ... State Issued ID ..." May 12, 2023 at 17:24
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    @ThomasAhle on the enrollment page it says "CLEAR is currently only available to US citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older with a valid government-issued photo ID." - The FAQ you mention doesn't say it allows non-permanent residents
    – Midavalo
    May 12, 2023 at 18:02
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    @ThomasAhle you want it one way, but it's the other way :-) Unfortunately you're not eligible yet. It's annoying and unfair, but that's how it is.
    – JonathanReez
    May 12, 2023 at 18:04
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    You're probably correct. It's just confusing because the CLEAR people I talked to insisted I was eligible both times, even as I told them very clearly I was not a citizen/resident. Even their online support insisted I was eligible when I talked to them now, though they weren't as sure when I sent them the link in your answer. May 12, 2023 at 20:01
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    I’m not familiar at all with the program, but it seems to be there are actually two different programs, Clear and Clear Plus. It’s totally unclear to me what the difference is, though.
    – jcaron
    May 12, 2023 at 20:40
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The sort of questions you are seeing are curated from public records (property ownership records, etc.) and credit reports (mortgage/car payments) and probably other proprietary sources as well. If the system can't find anyone with your same name and birthday, or cannot produce enough questions, then it "gives up" and asks nonsense questions whose correct answer is "none of the above" (used to happen to me). If you have lived in the US for less than say two years, then it's likely they won't have any "real" questions. Probably CLEAR knows that the "none of the above" answers don't actually prove anything, which is why they aren't letting you in. Unfortunately, I don't know a way around this other than to wait until you have a bigger "footprint" in the US (e.g. real estate or car ownership, bank accounts, credit cards) so that your set of questions will be "real" questions.

It is unlikely that they incorrectly matched you with a different person with the same name, birthdate, and/or similar fingerprints. For one thing, that would mean the "none of the above" answer would be wrong, and the system would have said that immediately.

As the other answer points out, you may be ineligible for CLEAR due to not being a US Citizen or Permanent Resident. However this almost certainly has nothing to do with your difficulty with the public records questions.

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    As per the other answer, OP is not eligible for CLEAR. It's as simple as that.
    – Doc
    May 12, 2023 at 18:29
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    Perhaps so, but it seems unrelated to the specific problem he has signing up May 12, 2023 at 18:45
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    As a citizen I've had that sort of system give me bogus questions before. AFIAK my name is unique, but the last time I hit one it was asking me which of a list of cars I had owned--with nothing on the list that I would have even wanted to own. Rejecting them produced another question that actually had a car I had owned at that time. May 13, 2023 at 4:16
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    @O.R.Mapper: By 'wrong' I mean the system would believe the answer is wrong, since it thinks the OP is someone else. May 13, 2023 at 13:23
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    @O.R.Mapper: BTW the databases from which these questions originate do not contain fingerprint data. They only seek to match birthdate, name, maybe social security number. May 13, 2023 at 13:24
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If you're wondering why all the weird questions for addresses you never had, that is a common method used by identity verification services. They choose an obscure question from your history, like past addresses, phone numbers, vehicles owned etc. They give you a list of options, one of which might be true for you, and say "which of these is one you had?" Of course they are all nonsense, except for possibly one.

This is a good thing. This is a clever security check.

The reason to give you all wrong ones and a "none for of the above" button is to make it much harder for an imposter to get lucky, and to accommodate the possibility that they are trying to match you to the wrong record.

The imposter could be an automated script, which gets you into a complicated calculus at making the problem solvable by a legitimate human, but resource-prohibitive for an automated attack to succeed.

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    It's not a good way for people's identity: (1) the system may choose questions not applicable to the user, (2) people may not remember <obscure fact> even if it was indeed related to them, (3) it is based on information that is public, and wasn't meant to be secret, (4) other entities could be legitimately using the same questions, so third parties could get told the real answers by the real users. Compare that to an schema where they used a passport (as an option for those having one, such as the OP) to validate the identity of the candidate, instead of asking such questions.
    – Ángel
    May 14, 2023 at 2:18
  • @Ángel It sounds like they use both, since government-issued photo ID is required? May 14, 2023 at 19:54
  • Having a "none for of the above" button doesn't increase the complexity for an imposter that much. It just goes from 4 to 5 options. May 14, 2023 at 23:40
  • @ThomasAhle it does, because it opens the door for more pages of additional options. Based on my first round of answers it can pop up additional pages of choices for the ones I said "none of the above" before. IIRC some do that. Of course if you said "none of the above" to all of them then it's going to guess it's tryign to match you to the wrong file and stop asking. May 15, 2023 at 0:31
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    @Ángel It may well be not a very good system. I'm not selling it :) But all systems have compromises due to a wide variety of practical issues, and in my experience if you become privy to all of them, you go "wow, so that's why they do that". Still may not be their best or most modern choice, but it usually wasn't insane when they picked it. If they're dealing with the credit bureaus, particularly, they tend to have weird stuff to prevent their customers harvesting data. May 15, 2023 at 0:39

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