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Port of Seattle pushes back on facial recognition as TSA plans next steps for biometric pilots

Port of Seattle pushes back on facial recognition as TSA plans next steps for biometric pilots

The launch of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Biometric Exit at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been halted, after the Port of Seattle Commission approved a limited moratorium on the use of facial recognition, Seattle Times reports.

The move makes Sea-Tac the country’s first airport to push back against Biometric Exit, according to the report.

The moratorium, which applies only to the collection of public biometrics on Port grounds, pending the adoption of tangible and enforceable policies by the commission was agreed to unanimously by its five-members. A new facility for processing international travelers is expected to open in July, 2020, and as it will be under the jurisdiction of the federal government, rather than the Port Authority, CBP’s Biometric Entry facial recognition deployment is expected to proceed as planned.

Biometric technologies already in use, such as Clear services operating at TSA lines, are unaffected.

Seattle Times reports that some commissioners say they are open to the possibility that tensions between the efficiencies and convenience of biometric checks and the civil liberties concerns they inspire cannot be resolved.

Facial recognition was expected to be launched soon for boarding Delta Airlines flights, but the Port Commission conducted a pair of study sessions which were intended to inform a motion on safeguards to ensure facial recognition on Port grounds is voluntary, private, equitable, transparent, lawful, ethical, and justified.

Now a new working group has been stood up, composed of Port staff, airlines, cruise lines, technology companies, and community representatives, and tasked with developing the principles adopted by the Commission into policies for biometrics by the end of March. The Commission will vote on the working group’s recommendations by late June, according to the report.

CBP has told the Port of Seattle in a letter than the agency agrees with the principles, and will follow them in implementing the technology, Airport World writes. Delta responded with a statement that its facial recognition cameras already “meet or exceed the guiding principles in the motion that the Port of Seattle adopted today.”

Commissioner Ryan Calkins said the hard work of regulating facial recognition lies ahead, because the technology “is neither an unmitigated good nor an unmitigated bad. The very attributes that make it so much of a benefit — convenience and customer satisfaction — make it very dangerous.”

TSA plans next steps

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), meanwhile, is planning to trial facial recognition at security check and baggage drop areas to enable the agency’s Travel Document Checkers to focus on resolving identity issues, according to Defense Daily.

Under current procedures, TSA Requirements and Capabilities Senior Advisor Melissa Conley says TSA officers must manually verify the authenticity of identification documents, that passengers match their IDs, check their vetting status, have a flight reservation, and then resolve anomalies. The agency has set out a series of incremental improvements to automate parts of the process.

The first phase of TSA’s biometric pilot program was a proof-of-concept at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which was recently completed. A Travel Document Checker used a credential authentication technology (CAT) device, and cameras to compare the traveler to his or her document with facial recognition supplied by Idemia. The system’s GUI, passenger understanding of the technology, and performance were assessed during the 30-day trial.

The second phase of the CAT with camera (CAT-C) is planned for the second quarter of fiscal 2020, with more flexible, modular, off-the-shelf cameras, an easier to understand GUI, and a final configuration for officer-assisted 1 to 1 matching. The third phase, planned for the first quarter of 2021, will integrate automated Travel Document Checker functions with the self-service e-gates used by travelers.

TSA will also leverage CBP’s Traveler Verification System, though it will have to work with larger galleries, as TSA cannot separate travelers at checkpoints by specific flight.

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