The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is testing out the use of facial recognition systems at American airports, which some experts worry could compromise privacy and civil liberties.
TSA’s pilot project involves travelers placing their ID cards into a slot and facing a camera on a screen. The camera captures their image and then compares it to their identification.
“What we are trying to do with this is aid the officers to actually determine that you are who you say who you are,” said Jason Lim, identity management capabilities manager, during a demonstration of the technology to reporters at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The TSA is testing the technology at 16 airports. In addition to Baltimore, the other airports are based in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Washington, as well as San Jose, California; Orlando, Florida; and Gulfport-Biloxi and Jackson in Mississippi.
The TSA’s project has attracted criticism from lawmakers.
On Feb. 9, a group of Democrat senators wrote a letter (pdf) to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, asking that the agency “immediately halt” deployment of the program.
“Increasing biometric surveillance of Americans by the government represents a risk to civil liberties and privacy rights,” the letter said.
“Currently if a U.S. traveler shows up to one of the 16 airports testing this technology, they will be met with a facial identification scanner before they can proceed to their flight. Thousands of people daily are encountering a decision to travel or safeguard their privacy—a decision that threatens our democracy.”
The TSA says the pilot program is voluntary and accurate, but critics have raised concerns about questions of bias in facial recognition technology and possible repercussions for passengers who want to opt out.
Jeramie Scott from the Electronic Privacy Information Center said that while it’s voluntary now, it might not be for long. He noted that Pekoske said during a talk in April that eventually, the use of biometrics would be required because they’re more effective and efficient, although Pekoske gave no timeline.
Scott said he’d prefer TSA not use the technology at all. At the least, he’d like to see an outside audit to verify that the technology isn’t disproportionately affecting certain groups and that the images are deleted immediately.
Meg Foster, a justice fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, said there are concerns about bias within the algorithms of various facial recognition technologies. Some have a harder time recognizing faces of minorities, for example.
The use of facial recognition technology (FRT) has resulted in multiple people being arrested for crimes they did not commit.
In Georgia, a black man was held in jail for almost a week in late November after the facial recognition system incorrectly matched him with the face of a suspect who had allegedly committed a robbery in New Orleans, The Times-Picayune reported.
The victim of this error had never visited Louisiana. He was only released after detectives realized they had made an error.
Another man, Nijeer Parks, was wrongly arrested in 2019 for allegedly shoplifting snacks and candy in New Jersey due to an error in facial recognition. He already had a previous conviction for drug-related charges. In his first appearance in court, Parks began to consider his options, including admitting to a crime he did not commit.
“That’s when it started hitting me, like a plea deal might not be bad even if I didn’t do it because with a trial there’s more [time], and me being a convicted felon, my time is doubled,” he told Wired in March 2022.
The case against Parks was only dropped after almost a year, including 10 days he spent in jail.
Government Use of FRT
In August 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report (pdf) detailing how FRT is being used by federal agencies.
Out of the 24 surveyed agencies, 18 reported using an FRT system for one or more purposes. Sixteen used it for digital access or cybersecurity-related tasks.
Six agencies used the technology to generate leads in criminal investigations, like identifying a person of interest. Five agencies used FRT to monitor or surveil locations to determine whether a specific individual was present in the place.
“Ten agencies reported plans to expand their use of FRT through fiscal year 2023. For example, an agency plans to pilot the use of FRT to automate the identity verification process at airports for travelers,” the GAO report said.
In February 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union and 40 other groups asked President Joe Biden to take executive action to stop the use of FRTs. The technology poses “profound and unprecedented threats to core civil rights and civil liberties,” the coalition warned in a letter.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.
From The Epoch Times