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TSA tests touchless system that matches your ID to your face, avoids COVID-19 risks

Transportation Security Administration at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Released)
September 05, 2020

The Transportation Security Administration is testing a system that matches your ID to your face, avoiding person-to-person contact that could spread the coronavirus.

The system, now part of a pilot program at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, is similar to a technology that was tested last year at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. But the new system will allow passengers to insert their ID into the scanner rather than handing it to a TSA officer.

“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA,” Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement Tuesday.

Pekoske said that if the pilot program proves successful, it may be implemented at more airports.

Participation is voluntary for those who have TSA PreCheck, which expedites airport security screening.

The device verifies the authenticity of the ID by matching it to a photo that’s taken on the spot. That information is displayed to a TSA officer behind a clear plastic barrier. Other passengers will not be able to see the image.

Should the device not produce a match or should it generate an error, passengers will undergo a regular screening process.

The machines will be able to authenticate a wide range of IDs, including driver’s licenses, state-issued photo IDs, passports, military ID cards and Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler cards.

According to the TSA, photos of passengers are not saved or stored. The photos are deleted within 24 hours, according to a privacy assessment on the technology published in June.

Still, the use of facial recognition technology raises concerns among privacy advocates. Jeramie Scott, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Coalition, a Washington advocacy group, said there’s nothing to stop TSA from making the screening process more intrusive.

TSA could decide to keep photos taken to match passengers’ ID for more than 24 hours, he said. Or the agency could decide to match the photos to a database, which he said raises additional privacy concerns.

“TSA could change their program at any moment that makes it less privacy protected,” he said. “Any reassurances TSA gives right now feel fleeting.”


© 2020 USA Today