TSA Will Start Taking Your Photo At Security Checkpoints

Say cheese!

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Slight typo. It’s 2 years (24 months) not 24 hours. Not sure retaining a photo for 24 hours would help you compare people much for what it’s worth.

  2. I know China have been doing this for awhile now. DHS is moving towards facial recognition for trusted traveler programs, boarding, and now security checkpoint.

  3. Chipped at birth. It’s coming. Sounds strange and outrageous now. But we’re being conditioned to accept it. After that, there can be no freedom. You’ll be monitored every second.

  4. It sounds odd but I don’t really object to the government invading my privacy as long as they don’t get hacked. The way I figure it the government has kind of a inadvertently benign ineptitude, where they can’t effectively do bad things because they’re nincompoops. What actually does frighten me is private enterprise getting my info, since they have no oversight and often no morality, and they can be frighteningly effective.

  5. This is ridiculous..TSA checks you next to your new REAL ID as well as the Airlines doing retina scan at the gate. Total violation of privacy. TSA or Customs or whoever needs to sit down and figure out a protocol to follow or else the ACLU is gonna have a field day with this

  6. I’m willing to bet that the ability to opt out is not allowed as a participant of Pre-Check.

  7. This isn’t really new. All travelers have been recorded at checkpoints of over a decade via closed circuit video systems. How is this any different? Not concerned.

  8. If you think security lines are long, just wait until they start taking photos. In addition to all the other security stuff, now everyone has to add more time to have their photo taken.

  9. Already doing this. Had it done on my DFW-LHR flight on AA on 16 May. Had to take off mask and glasses to do it.

  10. I wonder if they will be doing this for those of us that have GOES. Does anyone know about that?

  11. This sounds beyond ridiculous to me! so, let me get this straight, they take your picture to match it with your document you have, which might be old and not so much with what you actually look now. For example, my husband now has a beard, so are they going to make him shave there to make sure it’s the same person? what if I would now be a blond instead of a brunette, or have had some plastic surgery and looked a little different? common people, this is just way too much! why not show our finger prints next?

  12. Privacy issues aside, I barely resemble my 9 year old passport picture – facial hair, hair color and quite a few wrinkles…

  13. Actually it’s not TSA it’s CBP for outbound international flights only AND the only opt out s are under 14 and over 79.

    They do this already at LHR upon arrival for border without agents processing you. Same thing

  14. I encountered this in DEN a few weeks ago. The Pre Check photo lane was taking 4x as long per passenger as normal ID and boarding pass checks. It was backing up enough that the staff had to wave people off to go do normal checks. They are going to have to speed this up by 4-5x or it’s going to be really bad.

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