TSA tests self-service biometric scanners at Reagan National Airport

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Written by Ryan Johnston

A biometric security program announced earlier this week by the Transportation Security Administration could allow travelers to cross security lines without needing to interact with a person, potentially reducing the spread of the coronavirus and speeding up airport security.

The pilot program, which will initially be limited to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, will allow travelers to have their photo taken by a tablet computer that will automatically match the photo on their chosen ID. Instead of handing over their passport or ID card directly to a TSA agent, travelers will insert the document into a scanner under the tablet, reducing the number of in-person contact between them and TSA agents. Once the photo is taken, a TSA agent seated behind an acrylic screen will receive face matching, identity authentication and flight information on their computer and can choose to allow the traveler to proceed to the control lane.

The scanners would also represent the most technical step yet for the TSA to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at airports, which have turned into ghost towns as air travel has collapsed. The Centers for Disease Control has warned against air travel if possible to reduce the spread of the virus, and the TSA has implemented several other hygiene measures, such as requiring all officers to wear face masks and gloves. at all times, and regularly disinfect contact points in the safety zone, such as garbage cans and handrails.

“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and are part of the new standard for TSA,” TSA administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. Press release. “As a result, we are exploring the rapid testing and deployment of this contactless self-service technology. At the end of the pilot, we hope to be able to determine how the positioning of the new technology will allow passengers to use it themselves, thus providing a safer checkpoint experience, while adding significant benefits by security.

While the new physical barriers between travelers and TSA screening officers are an effect of the coronavirus pandemic, the scanning technology is not, having already been tested last September at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

And facial recognition has been around at airports for several years, including several doors at National. But the TSA said photographs taken in this new project will not be recorded after being used for verification. Travelers can also decline to have their photo taken, allowing the TSA to visually verify them against the scanned image of their ID.

Biometric scanning at airports has aroused the ire of privacy advocates, including the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology, who said in a 2017 report that a Department of Homeland Security biometric program would be based on a ” fragile legal ground ”because it has never been explicitly authorized. by Congress. Facial recognition programs at airports across the country have grown as technology refined and have since caught passengers attempting to impersonate other travelers.


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