Facial recognition, fingerprinting, and retina scans—all of these and more could be extracted from travelers by the government at checkpoints throughout domestic airports. Please join EFF in opposing the dangerous new bill, sponsored by Senator Thune (R-SD), which would authorize this expanded biometric surveillance.
The TSA Modernization Act (S. 1872)would authorize the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to deploy "biometric technology to identify passengers" throughout our nation’s airports, including at "checkpoints, screening lanes, [and] bag drop and boarding areas."
The bill would make a bad situation worse. Today, CBP is subjecting travelers on certain outgoing international flights to facial recognition screening. The bill would expand biometric screening to domestic flights (not just international flights), and would increase the frequency that a traveler is subjected to biometric screening (not just once per trip).
Facial recognition is a unique threat to our privacy, because our faces are easy to capture and hard to change. Also, facial recognition has significant accuracy problems, especially for non–white travelers, who apparently are underrepresented in algorithmic training data. When the government gathers sensitive biometric information, data thieves might steal it and government employees might misuse it. Finally, the government might expand the ways it uses its biometric system from just identifying travelers to also screening them against problematic databases. Arrest warrant databases, for example, are riddled with error, and include many people accused of minor offenses. That’s why EFF has repeatedly opposed biometric surveillance at airports.
This bill may be inspired by a plan, announced earlier this year by a CBP official, to collect travelers’ biometric information throughout airports: "Why not look to drive the innovation across the entire airport experience? . . . We want to make it available for every transaction in the airport where you have to show an ID today."
CBP’s alarming vision of pervasive biometric surveillance at airports cuts against the rights to privacy, travel, and association that are hallmarks of our democratic country. The invasive data collection proposed in Sen. Thune’s new bill would invade the biometric privacy of countless innocent Americans and foreigners.