TSA (Transportation Security Agency) based in the United States intends to adopt more facial recognition technology in various airports.  The facial recognition technology which US air travel passengers would be installed in over 430 domestic airports within the next Decade (10-years).

The program which uses biometric technology known as Idemia (An identity and security agency based in North America is a leading provider of biometrics and secure identity solutions to the federal state, and local agencies), has be criticized by the privacy and civil rights organizations. It is said that although the software could carryout large surveillance, it has not been able to curb the terror in the skies.


Image source: Pixabay

It is noted that government agencies have varying opinions with regards to the facial recognition systems, currently functional in over 25-airorts across the United States.

According to theregister.com commentary from a TSA official:

“The facial recognition and its abilities have been assessed over the past two years, and the system has boosted identity verification efficiency without infringing on traveler's privacy rights.”


The mode of operation of the facial recognition technology involves the scanning of passenger’s face, and then automates the verification of the passenger checking to verify that the person is actually the intended passenger to board a flight, and also verifies that they are not subjected to any other security checks or barred from using the aero-services.

TSA press secretary Carter Langston said:

“Right now, we are at six percent fully operational capacity, we would have to expand rapidly to get to 430-nothing in the federal government happens rapidly. It will take us years to get from six percent up to 100-percent.”

It is expected to take less than 10-years to actually meet the coverage of 430-airports in the United States.

The program by the agency which is conducted in over 25-airports with verifiable facts shows that the use of the biometrics does four key things:

  1. It does improve the identifying of verification, and that includes fake IDs very fast.
  2. Then it proceeds to verify the picture on the ID card, to ascertain if it is the same with the person standing at the TSA podium.
  3. It also verifies if they are intended to travel in the next 24-hours.
  4. while checking if they have a Precheck, regular screening status, or flagged to receive additional screening.

It should be noted that if there are no limitations, or mistakes the technology does all the procedures quickly and effectively, cutting down wait time and a happy traveler. Also, a much better flying environment (Airport), and airplane safety.

Langston further stated:

“It identifies those four very key and critical elements in identity verification, which are the lynch pin for transportation security. And it does so without any decrease in efficiency-at the same level of efficiency as does a manual verification process.”

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Centre), has quite a contradictory opinion on the airport facial scans. In their four-page letter to the congress, it is noted, that they urge congress to suspend TSA’s use of facial recognition technology, and in February 10,2023 supported a group of senators; calling for the halt of the pilot program.  


Jeramie D. Scott, (Director of EPIC’s Project on Surveillance Oversight) in his June 30th article stating that:

“Facial recognition is an invasive and dangerous surveillance technology. When the government moves forward with pilot programs that will, if fully implemented, subject millions of people on a daily basis to the technology that should give us all a pause.”

He further called the program a mistake, which not only seen as infringing into personal privacy, but also that the said technology has been known to misidentify women and people with darker skin tone, and not ignoring the regulatory oversight as well.

His commentary which directly hitting on the dangers of the program stated that:

“This is a mistake-not only because of the ongoing privacy and bias issues but because of the long-term implications of using our face as our ID. This is because the US lacks an overarching law to regulate the use of facial recognition to ensure the necessary transparency, accountability, and oversight to protect our privacy, and civil rights.”


Langston said that TSA has addressed all the above concerns regarding Data privacy and Skin tone.

  1. In terms of Data Privacy: Live photos and ID are overwritten by the next passenger’s scan. It is only retained in the RAM, and are purged when the officer logs off or turns off the machine, which happens 30-mins of non-use. This implies that there are no logs with regards to peoples faces that are kept as they go through security checks, at the various airport terminals. Although passengers are still seen on airport CCTV, and if the passenger has government issued photo ID, then the government will have what you look like.
  1. In terms of Skin Tone: Misidentification of persons was addressed, as their assessment revealed that the algorithm used by TSA is the top of the line as published by NIST Studies for accuracy across race, gender, and ethnicity.

Two years ago, TSA worked with Homeland Security’s Science and Technology in reviewing the functionality of the technology, and its accuracy in identifying people. The agency reported that it found no consistent statistically significant differences, in its mode of operation in identifying people irrespective of their gender, race, and skin color.

Although not mandatory in the use of the scan as at the moment, people can decide on if they want to be scanned or not, when they arrive the airport.  




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