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TSA expands controversial facial recognition program

TSA expands facial recognition program
TSA expands controversial facial recognition program for security 02:35

As possible record-setting crowds fill airports nationwide, passengers may encounter new technology at the security line. At 25 airports in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the TSA is expanding a controversial digital identification program that uses facial recognition.

This comes as the TSA and other divisions of Homeland Security are under pressure from lawmakers to update technology and cybersecurity.

"We view this as better for security, much more efficient, because the image capture is fast and you'll save several seconds, if not a minute," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

At the world's busiest airport in Atlanta, the TSA checkpoint uses a facial recognition camera system to compare a flyer's face to the picture on their ID in seconds. If there's not a match, the TSA officer is alerted for further review.

"Facial recognition, first and foremost, is much, much more accurate," Pekoske said. "And we've tested this extensively. So we know that it brings the accuracy level close to 100% from mid-80% with just a human looking at a facial match."

The program has been rolled out to more than two dozen airports nationwide since 2020 and the TSA plans to add the technology, which is currently voluntary for flyers, to at least three more airports by the end of the year.

There are skeptics. Five U.S. senators sent a letter demanding that TSA halt the program.

"You don't have to compromise people's biometric security in order to provide physical security at airports," said Sen. Ed Markey.

Pekoske said he agrees with senators in that he wants to protect privacy for every passenger.

"I want to deploy technology that's accurate and doesn't disadvantage anybody," he said.

Privacy advocates worry about the lack of regulations around facial recognition and its tendency to be less accurate with people of color.

Most images are deleted after use, but some information is encrypted and retained for up to 24 months as part of the ongoing review of how the technology performs.

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