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TSA and NEC experts talk biometrics in latest IBIA podcast

TSA and NEC experts talk biometrics in latest IBIA podcast

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is still defining the role of biometrics in domestic air travel, but will move slowly and work to provide full transparency as it does so, a pair of experts from the agency said on the latest Identity + Biometrics Industry Association (IBIA) ID Now podcast.

The episode on “Innovation in Transportation” is introduced by IBIA Executive Director Tovah LaDier, and features TSA Chief of Staff Ryan Propis and Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff Alexis Long. The two TSA representatives are in conversation with the episode’s host, NEC of America VP of Federal Operations Benji Hutchinson.

LaDier and Hutchinson were among industry experts interviewed by Biometric Update for our recent examination of facial recognition policy issues.

The podcast was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the aviation landscape dramatically, at least for the short term.

“The need for innovation in our global aviation structure has become starkly clear,” LaDier says, noting the TSA’s work on contactless passenger screening as a positive example of innovating to do things in new ways.

The discussion covers the topics of general trends in aviation, innovation and technology, and biometrics.

Long describes a key difference for the TSA, as one of the few remaining bodies responsible for all “three core functions of setting policy, procuring equipment, operationally delivering that security.”

This contrasts with Europe, where major hub airports are generally responsible for their own security, based on policy outcomes set by government bodies. One difference this makes is that the operator is more fully engaged in customer experiences from end-to-end, while TSA must resist any tendency to operate as a unconnected organization running processes inside of, and separated from, the overall customer journey. Some technology investments in Europe have therefore been made not to meet safety objectives, but to meet customer journey business cases.

Growth in the U.S. aviation market includes many more flights to and from new markets, such as in South East Asia and Africa, which challenges the TSA to extend its global operations further into those regions.

The roadmap for biometrics use that TSA has published is part of its effort to be as transparent as possible, and Propis and Long emphasize the opt-out nature and slow testing process the agency employs to ensure that travelers’ privacy rights and comfort level are respected.

With 4 percent annual growth in aviation volumes, prior to the pandemic shutdown, and budgets increasing more slowly if at all, the TSA experts point out that biometrics facilitate self-service processes and airport journeys with little or no personal interaction for the many travelers who prefer that, while also enabling airport resources to be focused more effectively.

Propis points out that biometrics enable each TSA officer “to be a little bit more of an analyst.”

The discussion also touches on the culture shift at the TSA, towards an embrace of innovation despite historic difficulties such as with puffer machines over a decade ago, challenges with sharing data, and the agency’s new CT machines for baggage screening.

The IBIA also recently published a paper on the role of biometrics in digital identity.

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