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TSA to use facial recognition technology in U.S. airports

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

13 November 2017

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has already deployed facial recognition technology at one TSA checkpoint in the States, at JFK, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (the EFF) reports that the TSA plans to roll this out on a nationwide scale.

The program, known as PreCheck, claims to allow travelers to “speed through security” without the hassle of removing shoes, laptops, liquids and belts. However, the EFF reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s greater plan is to collect face images and iris scans from citizens across the country.

Currently, PreCheck travelers have to apply by supplying a fingerprint. At a pilot program this summer, the TSA used those fingerprints to verify travelers at airports. The TSA now wants to add facial recognition, iris scans and other biometrics to the program.

This is part of a worrying trend. Last year, in pilot programs in two different states, the CBP used facial recognition to capture pictures of travelers boarding a plane and crossing a land border—and they then cross-referenced these with photos recorded from passports and visas.

The CBP originally said that it would delete any information associated with U.S. citizens. Now it says that it will keep photos of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents for two weeks, and retain information about their travel for un 15 years. It retains data on “non-immigrant aliens” for 75 years.

And if that wasn’t scary enough, here’s what the EFF reports:

CBP has stated in PIAs that these biometric programs would be limited to international flights. However, over the summer, we learned CBP wants to vastly expand its program to cover domestic flights as well. It wants to create a “biometric” pathway that would use face recognition to track all travelers—including U.S. citizens—through airports from check-in, through security, into airport lounges, and onto flights. And it wants to partner with commercial airlines and airports to do just that.

Congress seems primed to give the TSA and the CBP permission to fulfill their plans. In addition, this seems to be part of a wider national push to use biometrics for access to stadiums and venues too.

According to the EFF:

DHS’s programs will become a massive violation of privacy that could serve as a gateway to the collection of biometric data to identify and track every traveler at every airport and border crossing in the country.

To speak out against these programs and against the use of facial recognition technology to track travelers and keep their data on file, visit the EFF’s site to contact your representatives and make sure your opposition is heard.

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