The Department of Homeland Security revealed in a ‘privacy impact assessment’ published last week that TSA will begin using facial recognition for identity verification at airport security checkpoints.
They will photograph each passenger and determine whether it matches the photo associated with the identity document used for screening. This will also be linked to the agency’s “Secure Flight” system that uses name, date of birth and gender for identity verification. This will allow them to compare photos as well as all other information from the document to ensure they match the person and what the person entered with their flight reservation.
Homeland Security says that passengers will be able to opt out of having their photo taken, though how that will work in practice is far from clear. They also promise to delete the photos they take within 24 hours. However their devices have the capacity to support removable storage drives. And they don’t plan to always honor deletion in any case,
0 In order to support system improvements, TSA may from time to time configure a small number of CAT-C devices for a short period of time to retain passenger data from the ID and photo for up to 24 months in order to evaluate system performance.
This has been in the works for awhile, but gets framed as automating document checks, not having to pass IDs back and forth with TSA screeners. In other words, that the pandemic is the right moment for this. Although that seems an odd take since the photographing will require passengers removing their masks.
Papers Please argues that the effort is illegal focusing on the agency’s failure to meet bureaucratic obligations in launching these efforts. My concerns with photo surveillance are primarily substantive. Although my concerns over the surveillance state are largely tilting at windmills, because that argument was effectively lost 20 years – we largely have the surveillance state we used to think of as the province of East Germans and Soviets.
Richard Clarke, a national security advisor in the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations, revealed in his book that showing ID at the airport was originally just a cosmetic way to appear to ‘do something’ in response to the explosion of TWA flight 800 in 1996. Now the TSA cares that it can identify you so it can match you against No Fly lists, even though No Fly itself is very broken.