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TSA plans for holiday air travel surge, advocates plan pushback on facial recognition

TSA plans for holiday air travel surge, advocates plan pushback on facial recognition

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is preparing for the wave of travellers over the Independence Day weekend with travel tips and more biometrics. Some advocates want to take the holiday weekend as an opportunity to resist what they see as the encroachment of unsafe and inequitable technology.

TSA is anticipating screening 17.7 million passengers over seven-day peak travel period, 2.82 million of them on Friday, June 30 alone.

The agency has 10 tips for travellers, one of which is to ensure they have an acceptable ID. That point notes the acceptance of digital IDs, in the form of mobile driver’s licenses and the American Airlines digital ID stored in the Airside’s app and utilizing Thales’ biometrics, at 25 airports. TSA also notes that CAT-2 biometric ID scanners from Idemia I&S have likewise reached 25 airports, for optional screening of domestic travellers.

‘Time to resist’

Dr. Joy Buolamwini, influential facial analysis researcher and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, has called for Americans to decline the use of facial recognition in airports, on grounds that the technology is biased and a threat to privacy.

Buolamwini and Washington Post Technology Columnist Geoffrey Fowler joined GBH News, based in Boston, Massachusetts, to discuss their view that face biometrics are dangerous. Buolamwini cites “numerous arrests and imprisonment of a number of Black men” as evidence of bias, while Fowler noted the breach of data from a DHS contractor as an example of the privacy risk.

Some people who want to opt out of facial recognition checks feel like doing so will invite extra scrutiny, according to Buolamwini, and curiously uses the EU as an example of authorities restricting the use of biometrics, despite the expansion of biometrics use at EU borders.

The TSA’s plans can still be changed, and the time to resist the technology’s rollout is now, Buolamwini says.

The AJL is putting together a TSA Scorecard, by asking people to document problems they encounter with the system.

“Thousands of people daily are feeling forced to decide whether to travel or safeguard the privacy of their faces,” the Scorecard webpage claims.

Digital identity industry responds

Ping Identity Executive Advisor Aubrey Turner notes that airport security checks have long involved photo IDs. Turner defends the TSA’s use of digital identity in an email to Biometric Update, and says stronger privacy protections are on the way.

“Airports and TSA security checkpoints have long been known for requiring physical identification cards to pass inspection, but now, as new technologies are being implemented – things are changing for the better. Digital ID use is still new, but as Federal agencies and states continue to adopt more digital capabilities, we are not far from a future where decentralized identity solutions, in the form of digital wallets, will support more individual privacy and control of personal data,” Turner writes.

“This means sensitive information like SSNs and driver’s license data may not need to be shared to obtain services. Digital identity will make security checkpoints not only faster, but more secure, as no unnecessary personal information is at risk of being compromised. Travelers will be able to share only the information a TSA agent needs to see, and nothing more. This is known as a Zero Knowledge Proof (ZKP) in technical terms. An identity is authenticated and trust established without underlying sensitive data being shared.

“If sensitive data has already been exposed to bad actors, digital IDs would offer affected users robust verification and better tamper resistance due to the stronger link between the physical person and their digital identity. Digital IDs also offer expedited revocation or deactivation of access. Even if this sensitive data is shared and subsequently compromised, digital IDs make it more difficult for bad actors to impersonate users and monetize the stolen information.”

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