The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to move forward with progressively implementing facial recognition and other biometric data into screenings at various airports across the United States. The agency began testing out the methods, which also include iris scans and fingerprints, on volunteers in their PreCheck program at airports over the summer. On November 1, the TSA announced plans to expand the program.
The TSA Pre-Application program claims to enhance “aviation security by permitting TSA to better focus its limited security resources on passengers who are more likely to pose a threat to civil aviation, while also facilitating and improving the commercial aviation travel experience for the public.”
Under the program, individuals are to submit biographic information (including, but not limited to, name, date of birth, gender, prior and current addresses, contact information, country of birth, images of identity documents, proof of citizenship/immigration status) and biometric data (such as fingerprints, iris scans, or facial images) to a TSA contractor, which forwards the information to the agency.
From Pilot Program to National Policy
In June and July of 2017, the TSA “launched a proof of concept initiative at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Denver International Airport to determine whether fingerprints from TSA Pre✓® Application Program applicants,” who volunteered to participate, could be used for identity verification.
The TSA is currently “seeking a revision to the currently approved request to allow for the collection of additional biometrics, particularly facial images but may include other biometrics such as iris, from TSA Pre✓® Application Program applicants.”
The TSA claims that "the regular collection of biometrics, such as facial images, will provide TSA with the ability to use those biometrics for identity verification at TSA checkpoints, potentially eliminating the need to show identity documents and improving both security and the customer experience.”
Some privacy advocates disagree with the attempted expansion. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the TSA’s push to expand its use of biometrics is part of a broader push by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to nationalize the collection and use of biometric data.
According to an assessment by the DHS, in 2016 the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will operate a test at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta, Georgia in order to identify reliable and cost-effective border management capabilities (such as verifying biometrics of departing travelers) that can be deployed nationwide and across multiple modes of travel. Photos of travelers taken during boarding will be compared against photos taken previously (U.S. passport, U.S. visa, and other DHS encounters) and stored in existing CBP systems. Prior to the departure of each flight, CBP will collect facial images and boarding pass information of all travelers, including U.S. citizens, as they pass through the passenger loading bridge to board their flight. CBP will use this data to test the ability of CBP data systems to confirm a traveler’s identity using a facial biometric comparison as the traveler departs from the United States.
Initially, the DHS states that the data will be stored for no longer than one year after the test. Since then the DHS updated it's stance, stating "CBP retains biographic exit records for 15 years for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and 75 years for non-immigrant aliens."
These actions would be carried out without congressional authorization.
Initially these practices were to be limited to international flights. However, according to John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner at CBP, the TSA is now seeking to expand the collection of biometric data to domestic flights, as well.
DHS Data in the Hands of Third Parties
Concerns should also be raised regarding the storage of biometric data in the hands of third parties, including but not limited to airlines. DHS sub-agencies are sharing data with the FBI, and the TSA Pre-check program shares it with private companies it uses as contractors.
Americans should be concerned about these proposals because the data collected—your fingerprint, the image of your face, and the scan of your iris—will be stored in the databases of the FBI, DHS, and other non-government third parties (such as commerical airlines and air authorities), which will be searched for immigration, law enforcement, and intelligence checks, including checks against latent prints associated with unsolved crimes.
This vast data collection will create a huge security risk. As seen with the 2017 Equifax breach, no government agency or private company is capable of fully protecting your private and sensitive information. While losing your social security or credit card information may result in fraud, those numbers can easily be changed. On the other hand, if your biometrics get into the wrong hands, you can’t change your face.
Dhs.gov. (2016). Departure Information Systems Test. [online] Available at: https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/privacy-pia-cbp-dis%20test-june2016.pdf [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017].
Dhs.gov. (2017). Traveler Verification Service (TVS). [online] Available at: https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/privacy-pia-cbp030-tvs-september2017.pdf [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017].
Lynch, J. (2017). TSA Plans to Use Face Recognition to Track Americans Through Airports. [online] Electronic Frontier Foundation. Available at: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/11/tsa-plans-use-face-recognition-track-americans-through-airports [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017].
Regulations.gov. (2017). Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposals, Submissions, and Approvals: TSA Pre-Check Application Program. [online] Available at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TSA-2014-0001-0021 [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017].
Wedler, C. (2017). TSA Plans to Use Facial Recognition to Track Americans in US Airports. [online] The Anti-Media. Available at: http://theantimedia.org/tsa-facial-recognition-biometrics/ [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017].
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