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House committee wants to check TSA’s digital identity homework

Bill would require agency to file report on digital ID and how it can be used
House committee wants to check TSA’s digital identity homework

The U.S. House Homeland Security Committee has advanced legislation that would require the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) to produce a report “describing the current state of digital identity ecosystems and the homeland security value of emerging digital identity ecosystems in the transportation sector.”

In comments made during a committee markup on June 12, bill sponsor Rep. Clay Higgins says he theoretically supports using digital ID in airport security screening processes, but that it is “important that we understand the full extent of the risks and benefits of utilizing this technology to advance the agency’s homeland security mission.” Hence the so-called Emerging Digital Identity Ecosystem Report Act of 2024.

The TSA has been among the more steady adopters of biometric and digital identity tools. It contracted Idemia’s public security division to provide its credential authentication technology (CAT) terminals, which can accept digital IDs and mobile driver’s licenses, and are now installed at more than two dozen airports across the U.S. It has grand plans to install updated CAT-2 units, which offer face biometrics, at more than 400.

On the credential side, nine U.S. states offer CAT-compatible mDLs. More are likely to follow. The TSA says digital identity documents such as state-issued eligible drivers licenses or identification cards can be added to a TSA-approved digital ID app or digital wallet. CAT face matching terminals are also being used to assess the long-term operational feasibility of digital IDs, including mobile driver’s licenses.

If the bill passes, the TSA would be required to file its report within 180 days of passage. However, while the potential risk of biometric technologies is a useful theme for lawmakers, the primary goal of the bill appears to be somewhat vampiristic – the stated goal being to “protect homeland security and increase the competitive advantage” of the U.S.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic, however: a pair of federal Senators are attempting to put the TSA’s biometric traveler verification program into the bin.

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