08/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Registered Traveler Meltdown: Fraud Action Against Clear? Investigate the TSA?

Last month, the Clear "registered traveler" program that operated with the
blessing of the US government
. About 200,000 people discovered passes they'd purchased were now
worthless. No refunds would be given. A class action lawsuit

has been filed
. But forget the money. Will anyone consider a fraud action
against the company's executives and perhaps against competing "registered
traveler" company Flo? And should someone hold the Transportation
Security Agency accountable for the mess?

Registered Traveler
was a program operated through the TSA that was originally intended to allow
people to skip past airport security. By giving up your fingerprints, retina
IDs and being subjected to a TSA background check -- plus paying some cash --
your registered status would mean bypassing the usual airport screening.

TSA created the rules for Registered Traveler and then left it to private
companies to operate within its guidelines. However, the rules never allowed for
actually getting past security, in the end. Instead, Registered Traveler turned
into a glorified "cut in front of the line" system. It was a way for frequent
travelers to jump ahead of everyone else in line, but it still subjected them to
the same screening.

Clear was the biggest company
operating under the Registered Traveler program, allowing people to jump ahead
in security lines at about 20 airports. When the company went under last month,
there were plenty of people shedding no tears for those who'd lost money on the
cards they purchased. After all, if those "smug" folks cutting in line were
"dumb" enough to enroll in a private program like Clear, they deserved to lose
their money -- or so some of the commentary has gone.

Well, airports benefited from the program. Orlando earned nearly $1 million
this year alone,

to USA Today. In turn, that should have helped all travelers.
But let's set aside the potential sniping between the "haves" and "have-nots" in
the airport security line and focus on the bigger issue. With an administration
that's trying to crack down on corporate abuses, such as misleading credit terms
-- shouldn't someone consider punishing those at Clear for pushing a consumer
product that seemed to have TSA backing when it had to be known the company was
about to collapse?

When exactly did Clear realize it was in serious danger of closing? At that
time, did it have any obligation to cease operations earlier, in order to issue
refunds to those who'd purchased cards? Was the company acting prudently in
continuing to sell passes with lengths of up to 10 years? Should it have still
been selling cards on the day it closed?

Meanwhile, another Registered Traveler company --
Flo -- continued to sell its own passes,
still making it seem on its
site at the time I write this that its card are accepted at more than 20
airports nationwide. In reality, there

are only three "Registered Traveler" locations left
. Two are operated by
Preferred Traveler, and one of the Preferred Traveler lanes

may have just closed
today at Jacksonville, following the Jacksonville
Aviation Authority

the Florida attorney general to investigate customer complaints.

Where's the TSA in all this? Acting like it has nothing to do with the mess.
At first,

the TSA said nothing to the public
. After a week, it finally got public
statement out on its site
and blog,
mainly to act like it wasn't connected with the meltdown.

All that biometric data that Clear was collecting? The TSA says it didn't
receive any of it after the "pilot" program ended in July 2008. And yet, you get
the impression that companies operating under the Registered Traveler mandate
were still required to collect it. Sure, the TSA
announced last
July it would no longer charge its own $28 fee to do screening. But  in the
same release, it said that those within the Registered Traveler system would
still need to verify member identities and that there was "promise" in a
"biometrically enhanced" Registered Traveler system.

If the change last year simply transformed Registered Traveler into a
skip-to-the-front service, why were all the biometrics necessary? Why not just
have a picture ID check as currently happens? And why didn't the TSA say all the
biometrics weren't needed?

And the status of the Registered Traveler program? Hit the TSA's
FAQ, and you're told:

Q. What is the status of the RT program now?

A. The program is a market-driven venture offered by the private sector in
partnership with airports and airlines.

Don't consumers deserve better than this? Shouldn't they at least be told
that the Registered Traveler program has lanes in only three remaining

Or on the TSA blog:

Will Clear members be able to transfer memberships to other service

That decision is between CLEAR, the other service provider, and the card

That sidesteps the issue that the TSA has required that each provider honor
each other's cards for a set period. So yes, Clear members should find the other
two Registered Traveler providers have to honor their cards -- at least if they
also don't go out of business.

Some lawmakers

are seeking answers
over the privacy of data that the TSA collected via
Clear, in the wake of its closure. I'm hoping they go beyond this and seek
answers into how the entire meltdown was allowed to happen.