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TSA is testing facial recognition at security checkpoints

Published: Sep. 4, 2020 at 10:34 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Long lines and close contact could become things of the past at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

To increase security and promote social distancing, the TSA is testing touchless facial recognition technology to get you to your gate.

“We want to do what we can to have fewer touchpoints for passengers, obviously, especially due to the pandemic,” said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.

Instead of handing your ID or passport to a TSA officer, you insert your identification into a device. It snaps a picture and compares that image with the photo on your ID.

“The whole idea is to make sure that you are who you say you are,” said Farbstein.

Farbstein says the system can detect fake IDs more accurately. She says the computer can also connect you directly to your flight information.

The credential authentication technology units authenticate several thousand types of IDs including:

  • U.S. driver’s licenses and photo IDs issued by state motor vehicle departments
  • U.S. passports/Permanent resident cards or visas
  • U.S. military common access cards/Retired and Uniformed service military ID cards
  • Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler ID cards

The program is currently being tested by volunteers at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C. Signs near the checkpoint will provide notice to passengers on how to participate in the pilot, in addition to providing instructions on how to decline having their photo taken. Passenger IDs will still have to be scanned through the device for identity verification.

Even though officials say pictures taken as part of the program are not saved, some consumer privacy advocates say they are worried about the government’s increased use of biometric technology.

Jay Stanley with the American Civil Liberties Union fears the program will socialize people to accept facial recognition and normalize the technology.

“It’s sort of advancing facial recognition, a very privacy-dangerous technology in American life,” said Stanley.

Others, like Albert Fox Cahn with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, say the tool can be inaccurate, and say there’s not enough oversight or accountability for how it will be used.

“There’s no way to actually ensure that TSA isn’t retaining this data,” he said. “And there’s also nothing to prevent them from later changing their minds.”

TSA officials say they were able to refine the technology after a 30-day similar test last year in Las Vegas. They have not yet said when or if the program will be available across the country.

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