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FAA reauthorization skips proposed airport facial recognition ban, funds modernization

FAA reauthorization skips proposed airport facial recognition ban, funds modernization

The U.S. Senate has approved the mandate of the Federal Aviation Administration for another five years, without a proposed amendment that would have barred the expansion of facial recognition at America’s airports.

The legislation to reauthorize the FAA was approved by an 88 to 4 vote. The amendment to block the expansion of face biometrics technology deployed by the TSA until at least 2027 was proposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). It would also have required “simple and clear signage, spoken announcements, or other accessible notifications” of the option not to participate. Merkley claims that the TSA began informing travelers of their right to opt out with “a little postcard” after he complained that the choice was not being made clear.

The amendment was not put to a vote by the Senate, though some media outlets had suggested it appeared likely to be.

Similar proposed bans have been introduced several times by Sen. Merkley and peers in the upper chamber. Like the Real ID standard for American driver’s licenses, the introduction of facial recognition in airports has faced pushback since it was first approved in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Once approved by the House, the legislation would grant more than $105 billion to the FAA and $738 million to the National Transportation Safety Board for airport modernization, including safety and technology upgrades. Some of the funding will go towards bolstering the ranks of air traffic controllers, The New York Times reports.

Wait watchers

Geoff Freeman, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, says the proposal would have cost U.S. travelers 120 million hours a year. The Times quotes him as calling the proposed amendment “dangerous” and “costly,” and that it “threatens to create chaos at America’s airports.”

In response, Sen. Merkley said that his proposal merely pauses the program at its current stage.

He also replied directly on X (Twitter) that the TSA’s website “says opting out of TSA’s facial recognition tech won’t add to wait times or cause passengers to lose their place in line.”

The website indicates that individuals opting out of face biometrics will not be subjected to a longer process.  It does not, however, make any claim about the wait times at airports without the technology matching those with it.

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