On Monday, October 15th, The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released its plan to improve both airport security and the traveler experience through the expanded use of biometric technology.
TSA’s press release highlights four primary goals that the organization is focusing on over the next eight years, including:
- Partnering closely with U.S. Customs for international travelers
- Operationalizing biometrics for TSA PreCheck members
- Expanding biometrics-based security for all domestic travelers
- Investing in infrastructure that supports biometric technology
In this article, we provide an overview of TSA’s 2018-2026 roadmap and discuss several future implications of biometric technology use in airports.
Overview of TSAs Biometrics Roadmap
At the core of TSA’s recent announcement is the expanded use of biometric technology, a field that encapsulates a broad array of techniques that help authenticate the identity of individuals through analyses of their personal characteristics.
For many of us, biometric technology already plays an active role in our daily lives – our smartphones use fingerprint authentication, our cars have voice recognition capabilities, and our banks are using retinal scanning systems more and more every day.
However, TSA’s biometrics roadmap relies heavily on one technology that we haven’t been exposed to nearly as much – facial recognition.
With facial recognition technology, TSA hopes to simultaneously improve airport security and enhance the traveler experience. Rather than having agents verify traveler identities using physical forms of identification, facial recognition systems would take pictures of passengers and compare them against a gallery of passport photos held in a secure digital database. Travelers would simply walk up to a face scanner, stand still for a picture, and wait for the device to confirm that they are who they say they are. After a traveler’s identity is verified, the photo is deleted, and the individual moves on to the full-body screen.
Using facial recognition and biometric technology in airports isn’t an entirely new concept. In 2015, U.S. Customs launched a facial recognition pilot program to catch imposters trying to enter and exit the country using others’ passports. Last month, a facial recognition system was piloted at the Los Angeles airport and plans to launch the first biometrics terminal are well underway for the Atlanta airport.
TSA believes that investing and using this next-gen technology will be crucial going forward as air travel volume continues to grow and security threats grow increasingly complex.
For those interested, the full 23-page TSA Biometrics Roadmap is available here.
What Are Some Implications?
TSA claims that its facial recognition systems cut down the identity verification process from twenty seconds to two seconds. Assuming a line moves with 100% efficiency, this means that a 100-person security lane should take less than 5 minutes to clear, eliminating a 30-minute bottleneck. One consideration, however, is how full-body screening lanes will be impacted. Without a similar time-saving solution on that front, TSA’s facial recognition systems are really just stacking the identify verification bottleneck on top of the existing screening congestion.
Although many get excited by the prospect of more expedient airport security, there are some who worry that there aren’t enough privacy protections in place to justify a full-scale rollout of facial recognition technology for domestic travel. Some see mandated biometrics as a form of involuntary government surveillance that shouldn’t be enforced until protections are spelled out and well-defined.
Others point to the fact that facial recognition technology has been shown to exhibit racial bias. In July, Amazon’s facial recognition system misidentified 28 members of Congress with those who had been arrested for crimes and disproportionately represented people of color.
Another inevitable implication of expanded biometrics use would be technological unemployment. TSA employs over 43k people today. Facial recognition systems would effectively eliminate the identify verification role and force the organization to either repurpose all of those resources or cut back entirely.
What Do You Think?
TSA’s recent announcement has reignited a healthy debate that forces us to weigh convenience vs. privacy and innovation vs. unemployment.
Where do you stand?
Will this technology actually speed up airport security?
Do you consider facial recognition technology to be an invasion of privacy?
Is this a form of technological unemployment worth pursuing?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!