Part of the “PreCheck” program, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) has released details of the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to collect face images and iris scans on a nationwide scale.
TSA Facial Recognition
The (1) TSA’s PreCheck program is ‘sold’ as a way to speed up security checks at airports by enabling “eligible, low-risk travellers” to get through security more quickly and conveniently. The program is available at participating US airports. It enables participating travelers to ease through checkpoint without having to remove shoes, liquids, laptops, lightweight jackets and belts.
Travelers can apply for PreCheck only if they’re a US citizen, or a Lawful Permanent Resident and haven’t been convicted of certain crimes.
Currently the TSA collects fingerprint data as part of the PreCheck application. Though the prints haven’t been used for anything other than part of the mandatory background checks of applicants. However, the TSA recently ran a pilot scheme at Denver International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. The program used the fingerprint data collected to verify the identity of PreCheck approved travellers at the security checkpoints in the airports.
This aggressive biometric checking system might currently be confined to the five million Americans who have elected to be part of PreCheck but concerns are being raised that it could be part of a wider effort to roll out biometric checks at airports across the US and develop the biometric checking so it includes face recognition and iris scan security checks.
As the (2) Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which condemns the proposed biometric checking as invasion of privacy, states in a report about the face recognition tracking:
“DHS’s programs will become a massive violation of privacy that could serve a gateway to the collection of biometric data to identify and track every traveler at every airport and border crossing in the country.”
The EFF points to pilot program the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was involved last year in Arizona and Georgia. The scheme involved the use of face recognition to take picture of travelers boarding an international flight leaving America and walking across a US land border. The images were then compared to the photos previously recorded from the travelers’ passports, visas and other recorded encounters they may have had with the DHS.
In a Privacy Impact Assessment of the pilot program, the CBP insisted that they may collect face recognition data of all travelers, but the data of US citizens would be deleted.
Though the EFF is quick to highlight how the DHS’s biometric travel screening of foreign citizens “morphed, without congressional authorization, into screening of US citizens, too,” noting how the DHS contends that US citizens and lawful permanent resident holders’ photos will be held for two weeks and then deleted and ‘non-immigrant aliens’ data will be retained for 75 years.
The EFF also raises concerns about how biometric data collected via the PreCheck program is already being shared among other agencies, like the FBI and with ‘private partners’. An example of the biometric information collected by the TSA’s PreCheck program being used outside of airport security systems can be found with the exploits of Idemia, the vendor for PreCheck. (3)
Idemia, which proudly asserts itself as “the global leader in trusted identities for an increasingly digital world”, now offers accelerated entrance for PreCheck-approved visitors going into the likes of stadiums and concerts throughout the US.
Controversy and Scandal
Idemia claims that equipping venues like stadiums and concert halls with biometric-based technology will not only heighten security going into such venues but will “assist in fan experience.”
This is not the first time the TCA’s aggressive security screening techniques have created controversy and scandal.
Last year, (4) Top Secret Writers reported how the public interest research center, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), acquired documents revealing how the Department of Homeland Security intentionally mislead the public about the safety of full body scanners.
EPIC states that the DHS’s Transport Security Administration “withheld test results, fact sheets, and estimates regarding the radiation risks of body scanners used to screen passengers at airports.”
With face recognition and iris scanners threatening to become a widespread reality at even more than airports amid concerns about radiation risks of body scanners, what we thought were already rigorous and humbling security checks at airports, look increasingly set to become even more violating to identities and even our health.