TSA sparks privacy concerns amid plans to install facial recognition systems at 400 US airports

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By Dan Sears

They claim it’ll tech-spedite the screening process.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sparked privacy concerns after unveiling plans to roll out controversial facial recognition tech in over 400 US airports soon.

“TSA is in the early stages of deploying its facial recognition capability to airport security checkpoints,” a spokesperson told The Post regarding the ambitious program. They explained that the cutting-edge tech serves to both enhance and expedite the screening process for passengers.

Dubbed CAT-2 machines, these automated identification systems accomplish this by incorporating facial recognition tech to snap real-time pictures of travelers.

They then compare this biometric data against the flyer’s photo ID to verify that it’s the real person.

Best of all, these CAT-scans enable “traveler use of mobile driver’s licenses,” thereby improving the security experience, per the spokesperson.

The TSA currently has 600 CAT-2 units deployed at about 50 airports nationwide and plans to expand them to 400 federalized airports in the future.

However, it could be a while before this mass rollout comes to fruition.

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Airport security.
“The technology provides a significant security enhancement, given that identity verification is a lynchpin in transportation security,” a TSA spokesperson told the Post. AP

“It may take until 2030 or 2040 that we are able to be fully operational with this technology,” said the spokesperson, who refused to name the specific airports for “security reasons.”

This divisive program has perhaps unsurprisingly spawned a firestorm of criticism. Following the implementation of these synthetic security accelerators at US airports last winter, lawmakers expressed concerns that the machines present a major privacy issue.

“The TSA program is a precursor to a full-blown national surveillance state,” said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. “Nothing could be more damaging to our national values of privacy and freedom. No government should be trusted with this power.”

Merkley is part of a coalition of senators, which includes John Kennedy (R-LA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who collaborated on the Traveler Privacy Protection Act.


A person poses for a photo while demonstrating the Transportation Security Administration's new facial recognition technology.
It may take at least 10 years before the machines are up and running. AP

“This new legislation would empower travelers in the United States with control over their privacy by banning the use of facial recognition technology and the collection of facial biometric data by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in U.S. airports,” the site reads.

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However, the TSA assures the public that automated ID checks aren’t mandatory, and that the data won’t be used for purposes other than screening passengers.

“The technology is completely voluntary,” the spokesperson told the Post. “Passengers may opt out without losing their place in line or any delay in getting through security screening.”

According to the TSA site, travelers who decide not to be scanned will undergo a manual ID check by the TSA agent at the podium.

As for the privacy violation implications, they declared that the tech is “solely used to automate the current manual ID checking process” and “will not be used for surveillance or any law enforcement purpose.”

“TSA is committed to protecting passenger privacy, civil rights, civil liberties and ensuring the public’s trust as it seeks to improve the passenger experience through its exploration of identity verification technologies,” they insisted.

Concerns over facial recognition software extend beyond the airport.

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In December, bankrupt pharmacy chain Rite Aid was banned from using the tech for five years to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it falsely flagged thousands of customers as potential shoplifters, federal agency said.

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