Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board assesses Atlanta airport biometrics

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board assesses Atlanta airport biometrics

Delta’s fully biometric terminal and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Biometric Exit program at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta was recently assessed by a U.S. government executive agency, NextGov reports.

CBP’s Traveler Verification Service (TVS) provides the backbone of the various services from different providers, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Chairman Adam Klein explains to NextGov that the system brings together the CBP-owned TVS backend, the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric storage capabilities and the passport and visa images held by the State Department, with a commercial contractor providing technical implementation.

“The advantage of Atlanta is that it combines really every significant application of the CBP system for international travelers. You’ve got this airline partnership with Delta, which is very, very developed. You’ve also got the partnership with TSA, where TSA is borrowing that system to use for international travelers,” Klein explains. “We watched a large international flight board and I would say in general, as you would expect, people’s primary concern was just getting on the plane.”

TSA has told the Oversight Board that its results do not show discrimination in the system, which is among its considerations. In addition to the effectiveness of the process for different demographics, Klein says the board will attempt to determine whether the public perceives it as fair. Board members will review CBP’s internal studies on potential bias, technical evaluation of the algorithms, and address the related question of whether the physical environment the system is operating in affects its effectiveness for different ethnicities.

The board will also consider how to ensure TVS will not be misused, and any potential security vulnerabilities. The current 12-hour storage time for images of Americans could be reduced soon, Klein says.

Several people were observed opting out, but most used the biometric system for boarding, and its performance was “strikingly fast” for virtually all passengers, according to Klein, with many surprised that they did not have to show documents after the scan.

The initial data collected by Delta for its biometric boarding process suggests it reduces the time taken by two seconds per passenger, or roughly 9 minutes for a wide-body aircraft.

NextGov reviews the background of the TVS and Biometric Exit, with mandates drawn from Congress’ response to the 9/11 Commission report. Delta’s biometric terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson adds check-in via a facial biometric kiosk, which validates the travellers against the TVS, and security checks with a TVS-owned tablet.

The board also reviewed the TSA’s biometric implementation at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last year.

Klein hopes a comprehensive review will be ready by the end of the summer, after the board reviews biometric implementations in the DC area, engages with non-governmental organizations, privacy and civil liberties groups, technical experts and academic researchers, and holds at least one public consultation.

This article was updated at 9:03 am on January 25, 2020, to clarify that CBP currently discards photos within 12 hours, not 12 days.

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