Facial Pilot Program is Promising

Summer travel has been difficult at best. More like a trip to purgatory. TSA has grand designs to expand security measures by implementing a controversial facial recognition program over the next several years. Just when you thought getting through security was torture, as many as 430 airports will be part of the security expansion.

Do not worry about participating, rights advocates are outraged, suggesting that TSA is improperly coercing participation, yet the agency says results have been extremely promising, all of which warrants expansion. Unbeknownst to you and me, this program got its start a couple of years ago at 25 airports, and facial matching algorithms have shown a 97% effective rate.

Persons enrolled in TSA PreCheck have been part of the voluntary pilot program. Now, it all makes sense. Recently, I got a quick second look. I did not know what was going on but played along. It required a long look at identification. It did not seem to match what was on their screen.

The problem seemed to be, back then I had hair. Eventually I passed the test. TSA says they are not retaining the details of people’s faces. Once the facial image is captured, it is overwritten as soon as the next passenger arrives in the queue. Security officials also say that once the system shut down off at the end of the day, whatever is in the storage system is deleted.

Wait a minute, in some cases collected biometric data was sent to the Department of Homeland Security to determine efficacy of the algorithms. Supposedly, the data was encrypted code, and not image files.

Personally, I do not care if TSA wants to match my current face with my face of yesterday, it bothers me that after tens of millions of dollars spent over the past three years we are just learning about this slight personal intrusion. TSA wants to make airport security more effficient, and technology ethics advocates want the program shut down. After all, TSA is doing its own testing and results have not been released to the public.

We have seen this before. Not long ago the narrative was the presumed intrusion of body scanners. It hasn’t panned out to be that big of a deal. I don’t think facial recognition is going to set off any alarms either. It is security protection as technology improves and proves itself. Perhaps the concern should be some of the people who are allowed to board a plane, then cause a scene 30,000 feet in the air.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2023 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Ralph C. Jensen is the Publisher of Security Today magazine.

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