TSA Rolling Out Worrying New Tech at More Than 400 Airports

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Just in case your opinion of the Transportation Security Administration wasn’t low enough already, now they’re going to be getting even more of your biometric data.

According to a Monday report in tech policy outlet Nextgov/FCW, the TSA is planning a rollout of new facial-scanning units at over 400 airports in the United States and is currently “working with the Department of Homeland Security’s research and development component to analyze data to ensure that the new units are working correctly.”

“The latest CAT scanners — known as CAT-2 units — incorporate facial recognition technology by taking real-time pictures of travelers and then comparing those images against their photo IDs,” the outlet reported.

“TSA first demonstrated the CAT-2 units in 2020 and began deploying the new screeners at airports in 2022. A Jan. 12 press release from the agency said it added ‘457 CAT-2 upgrade kits utilizing the facial recognition technology’ in 2023.”

Given the fact the average American traveler has what can be charitably described as a low-trust relationship with the TSA, they’re making this sound as normal as apple pie, insisting the data that’s being collected will be “minimal.”

“The CAT-2 units are currently deployed at nearly 30 airports nationwide, and will expand to more than 400 federalized airports over the coming years,” a TSA official told Nextgov/FCW — and noted that travelers can opt out of the scan by notifying a TSA agent and going through standard verification procedures.

Furthermore, the move is being billed as privacy-enhancing, not privacy-degrading.

“The agency’s CAT-2 units employ so-called one-to-one verification, where photos are generally compared against a government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, and then deleted from the scanner,” Nextgov/FC reported.

“This is often considered less privacy-invasive than so-called one-to-many matching, where a photo is compared against a larger database compiled of known individuals’ images to determine if there is a match.”

A fact-sheet from the TSA also tried to reassure travelers that these systems will, in no way, be used to violate their privacy rights — even though that promise and $5 will get you a slice of pizza at the LaGuardia Sbarro’s and absolutely nothing else.

“TSA is committed to protecting passenger privacy, civil rights, civil liberties and ensuring the public’s trust as it seeks to improve the passenger experience through its exploration of identity verification technologies,” the media release read.

“Facial recognition technology is solely used to automate the current manual ID checking process and will not be used for surveillance or any law enforcement purpose,” the agency added.

“TSA uses facial recognition CAT-2 technology only to verify the identity of the traveler at the podium and make a determination for access into physical security screening.”

However, as voluntary and pleasant as this TSA bureacratspeak sounds, there’s still worrying language buried in the media release.

For instance, while the agency insists that the data will be wiped, that comes with a caveat: “Photos are not stored or saved after a positive ID match has been made, except in a limited testing environment for evaluation of the effectiveness of the technology.” (Emphasis ours.)

The media release does not explain how limited this testing environment is, the time period the evaluation will take place over and how much biometric data must be stored to determine “the effectiveness of the technology.” Most travelers are going to reach answers to those questions based on how much they trust the TSA. So, yeah — given that, I’m going to guess this won’t end up being very popular among flyers.

Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Jeff Merkley of Oregon agree on virtually nothing. The former is a colorful Republican, the latter a caricature of a progressive Pacific Northwest Democrat. With them in the same room, you’re two-thirds of the way to a senatorial remake of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.” (“Hell is — other legislators!”)

However, the two senators agree on one thing, at least: CAT-2 technology needs to be regulated, and fast.

According to Forbes, Kennedy and Merkley introduced a bill last November, the Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023, which would prohibit use of the scanners, saying they could easily be exploited and travelers don’t know there is an opt-out. The bill would also require Congress to explicitly authorize any use of facial recognition technology in the future.

“Every day, TSA scans thousands of Americans’ faces without their permission and without making it clear that travelers can opt out of the invasive screening. The Traveler Privacy Protection Act would protect every American from Big Brother’s intrusion by ending the facial recognition program,” Kennedy said in a media release.

Merkley echoed those thoughts: “The TSA program is a precursor to a full-blown national surveillance state. Nothing could be more damaging to our national values of privacy and freedom. No government should be trusted with this power.”

The other co-sponsors of the bill prove that this isn’t just fake bipartisanship: Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and independent socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont also signed on. Given the general enmity between those personal parties, that lineup constitutes one hell (pardon the pun) of the “No Exit” remake I proposed earlier.

The bill has only been introduced and no movement has been seen on it, according to the official website of Congress.

As the rollout continues, however, one would expect that the movement to limit — if not completely ban — this dystopian technology will progress in a hurry. If not, both political parties will have (yet again) proven themselves as useless as the TSA’s take-those-shoes-off-mister security theater.


This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

The post TSA Rolling Out Worrying New Tech at More Than 400 Airports appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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