The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) trial rollout of biometric facial recognition technology at airport security checkpoints has raised questions about the risks it poses to travelers' privacy and the possibility of discrimination.
The TSA's program gives passengers the option to insert their ID into a machine while looking at a camera until a screen below flashes, "Photo Complete." Then the passenger passes through the checkpoint. The TSA says the images are then deleted and that the camera only turns on when a person places their ID card in the scanner, according to Jason Lim, the TSA's identity management capabilities manager.
The TSA is testing the technology at 16 major airports , and the agency insists that the program is voluntary . However, in a March 14 interview with Kyle Arnold of The Dallas Morning News, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said that if the TSA gets its way, biometric screening technology will eventually not be optional .
But even without mandating facial recognition, fears of delay or poor treatment by TSA staff may lead travelers to submit when they'd rather not. "Whenever there is a power imbalance between powers, consent is not really possible," says Meg Foster, a justice fellow with the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. "How does TSA expect them to see and read an inconspicuous notice, let alone tell a TSA agent they want to opt out of face recognition? Especially if it may not be clear to them what the consequences of opting out will be."