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Giving TSA Facial-Recognition Software Isn’t Worth a Faster Security Line

September 24, 2018 in Economics

By Matthew Feeney

Matthew Feeney

Earlier this month, officials at Washington Dulles International
Airport unveiled a facial-recognition system designed to replace
boarding passes. Travelers who loathe the long lines and waiting
associated with airports may applaud the move; the scans take less
than a second.

Yet we shouldn’t be so quick to welcome timesaving face
scanners. Facial-recognition technology poses a unique surveillance
threat and is being deployed without adequate privacy protections.
It should be kept far away from airports.

While certainly a member of the biometric family, facial
recognition is very different from other biometric technology (DNA,
fingerprints, etc.) in two important ways.

First, law enforcement can only collect DNA and fingerprints if
that information has been volunteered or collected as part of an
investigation. According to a 2016 study by the Center on
Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law
, the Federal Bureau
of Investigation’s DNA database only includes DNA related to
arrests and investigations. About 60% of the FBI’s
fingerprint database includes those associated with criminal or
forensic investigations, with many of the remaining prints being
volunteered by immigrants and those who have a job requiring
fingerprints. Thanks to the FBI’s access to passport photos
and numerous states’ driver’s license databases, at
least 80% of the images in the FBI’s Facial Analysis,
Comparison, and Evaluation Services Unit are not related to
criminal or forensic investigations.

Second, unlike DNA and fingerprint tools, facial-recognition
technology measures something that most people cannot hide in their
day-to-day lives. Most of us happily go about our days unconcerned
about law enforcement collecting and analyzing our fingerprints and
DNA. It’s true that you could seek to avoid facial
recognition by wearing masks, but such behavior is likely to draw
unwanted attention and incur a social cost.

We shouldn’t be so quick
to sacrifice our privacy on the altar of convenience.

When it comes to air travel, biometric collection is becoming
harder to avoid. In a Privacy Impact Assessment issued last year, the
Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border
Protection’s parent agency, bluntly stated, “the only
way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to
collection of biometric information when traveling internationally
is to refrain from traveling.”

Officials say that law-abiding travelers need not worry.
According to John Wagner, CBP assistant commissioner for the Office
of Field Operations, once the system is fully implemented, the
agency will delete the facial images of U.S. citizens almost
immediately after identity verification.

This may sound reassuring, and facial recognition is already
becoming commonplace in the private sectors thanks to companies
such as Apple
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Source: OP-EDS

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