TSA trying out facial recognition system at several new airports

ByPete Muntean, CNN
Monday, December 19, 2022
TSA trying out facial recognition system at several new airports
There's a good chance that many of us traveling for the holidays through some of the nation's busiest airports will have our faces scanned.

LOS ANGELES -- There's a good chance that many of us traveling for the holidays through some of the nation's busiest airports will have our faces scanned. That's because TSA is expanding its facial recognition pilot program.

The goal is to match a passenger's face with a photo ID at security check points.

The program is still in the testing phase but it's already getting a lot of pushback.

It is the new technology facing travelers as they fly for the holidays.

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The Transportation Security Administration is now scanning your face at select airport checkpoints as part of a growing test with passengers as the subjects.

"I think it's a great idea. I'm absolutely tech-forward," said Brittany Bowens, traveling from Atlanta, Georgia.

"We're already using it for our phones consistently. I mean, just about everybody's doing it," added Dean Knight, traveling from Meyersville, Maryland.

The TSA started this small pilot program at the peak of the pandemic, but now the agency's trial is expanding to more than a dozen different airports.

The latest additions are among the nation's busiest-Denver, Las Vegas, Dallas Fort-Worth, and Atlanta.


TSA administrator David Pekoske said the goal is evaluating the efficiency of this technology before committing to a nationwide rollout.

"We're assessing how the technology works and we're assessing it's accuracy, we're assessing it's impact on passengers," Pekoske said.

Here's how this works: You walk up to the machine, put your ID in the reader and that photo is matched with what the camera sees live.

"The response has been universally very positive. More effective, speedier, more convenient for passengers are the things that I hear," Pekoske said.

"Quite frankly, it's not doing anything to help the public," said Albert Fox Cahn. "The urgent need for greater transparency."

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Cahn, who is with the nonprofit Security Technology Oversight Project, said this could be the largest federal use of facial data ever.

"This technology is going to screw it up. And people are going to end up being detained by TSA, they're going to be faced with even more surveillance and more invasions of their privacy, just because an algorithm gets it wrong," Cahn said.

"The algorithm actually has so far proven in our assessment to get it right more than the human gets it right," Pekoske said.

The TS insists it is committed to passenger privacy, immediately destroying most images and securing data from cyber-attacks.

Signs in security lines show when you are about to be part of this test.You can even ask to opt-out and have an agent confirm your ID manually.

"I prefer a person right now," said Terry Strada, traveling from New York.


"There has to be some kind of parameter in terms of privacy," added Geraldine Thompson, traveling from Orlando.

"I don't think TSA has made the case that this is the system that is the best use of resources to protect the American public," said CNN National Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem.

More than 20 state and local governments have implemented some sort of restriction on using facial recognition technology.

The TSA said that will not impact its pilot program, as it looks toward an in-your-face approach to safety.

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"What I hope in the long run is, we're able to embed more and more advanced technology in our screening process," Pekoske said.

The TSA is also experimenting with taking this a step further by comparing the live image of you at a checkpoint with a photo of you already in a government database, like a passport photo or visa. That test is taking place right now but only on a limited scale at the Detroit and Atlanta airports.

The idea is never having to even show your ID at an airport.

Critics point out the biometrics industry is part of a powerful, multi-billion-dollar tech lobby and this technology is only now starting to take off.