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US Airports to use facial recognition technology

WASHINGTON (CNN) - There’s a good chance that many people traveling for the holidays through some of the nation’s busiest airports will have their faces scanned.

That’s because the Transportation Security Administration is expanding its facial recognition pilot program.

The goal is to match a passenger’s face with a photo ID at security checkpoints.

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

“I think it’s a great idea. I’m absolutely tech-forward,” said passenger Brittany Bowens, traveling from Atlanta.

Small pilot program

“We’re already using it for our phones consistently. I mean, just about everybody’s doing it.” said Dean Knight, traveling from Meyersville, MD.

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 its accuracy,” Pekoske said.

“We’re assessing its impact on passengers.”

How it works

Here’s how it works: 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.

Albert Fox Cahn of the nonprofit Security Technology Oversight Project said this could be the largest federal use of facial data ever.

“Quite frankly, it’s not doing anything to help the public.” Cahn said.

“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.”

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

Opting out

The TSA insists its commitment to passenger privacy, immediately destroying most images and securing data from cyberattacks.

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 passenger Terry Strada, traveling from New York.

“There has to be some kind of parameter in terms of privacy,” said 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 Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst.


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.

“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, 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 also point out the biometrics industry is part of a powerful, multi-billion-dollar tech lobby.

Overall, this technology is only now starting to take off.

Article Topic Follows: National-World

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Dodge Landesman

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