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TSA installing facial recognition tech in over 400 airports, despite major privacy concerns
Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

TSA installing facial recognition tech in over 400 airports, despite major privacy concerns

The Transportation Security Administration has recently started quietly launching its plans to install facial recognition technology in more than 400 United States airports, despite major privacy concerns, the New York Post reported Thursday.

A TSA spokesperson confirmed to the news outlet that the agency “is in the early stages of deploying its facial recognition capability to airport security checkpoints.”

Despite privacy experts and lawmakers pushing back on the plans, the TSA claims the credential authentication technology, also called CAT-2 scanners, will enhance and expedite the airport screening process for travelers. The automated technology works by photographing passengers and then comparing the biometric data against their identification.

The spokesperson told the Post that the machines allow “traveler use of mobile driver’s licenses,” which they claimed will enhance security and improve the traveling experience.

Roughly 50 airports around the nation are currently using CAT-2 machines. The TSA plans to roll out the units in 400 airports but noted it could take until 2030 or 2040 to become fully operational.

The TSA maintains that the facial recognition process is voluntary for passengers.

“Travelers who decide not to participate in the use of facial recognition technology will receive an alternative ID check by the TSO at the podium. The traveler will not experience any negative consequences for choosing not to participate. There is no issue and no delay with a passenger exercising their rights to not participate in the automated biometrics matching technology,” the TSA’s website states.

It notes that real-time photos of travelers passing through airport security checkpoints are not stored after making an identification match, “except in a limited testing environment for evaluation of the effectiveness of the technology.”

The TSA spokesperson told the Post that travelers who do not wish to participate in the automated process “may opt out without losing their place in line or any delay in getting through security screening.”

Last year, a coalition of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed privacy concerns despite the TSA claiming that the technology uses “minimum data” in its identification process.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D) sent a letter to the TSA’s administrator, David Pekoske, raising objections to the agency’s biometric surveillance of Americans, noting that it could pose “a risk to civil liberties and privacy rights.”

“While TSA claims that facial identification scans are not mandatory, it is unclear how travelers will know that they can ‘opt-out,’ and what the consequences for travelers are if they choose to opt-out,” Merkley wrote.

The senator further claimed that the technology could “exacerbate racial discrimination.” The letter urged the TSA to “immediately halt its deployment of facial recognition technology.” Merkley warned that the technology could be a “precursor to a full-blown national surveillance state.”

In November, Merkley and Republican Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana introduced bipartisan legislation to ban the TSA from collecting biometric data. The Traveler Privacy Protection Act was also backed by Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and Roger Marshall (R-Kansas).

“Every day, TSA scans thousands of Americans’ faces without their permission and without making it clear that travelers can opt out of the invasive screening,” Kennedy stated. “The Traveler Privacy Protection Act would protect every American from Big Brother’s intrusion by ending the facial recognition program.”

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