You’re about to meet the future of airport security if you haven’t already. The TSA has been testing facial recognition software at security screening points in airports for a couple of years now. The very first airport to trial the pilot program was at Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. The system is not without its critics. Here’s what you need to know about the next generation of airport screening.

How does facial recognition work at the airport?

Passengers insert their ID into a scanning kiosk and look into a camera for a few seconds. The computer scans your face with the photo on your ID. An agent stands by to oversee the process and provide a final confirmation of your identity. That’s it! One caveat – long-term plans will remove the human agent. The machines will eventually operate completely on their own.

Is facial recognition accurate?

The jury is still out. Since early last year, the TSA has been tracking the data collected in the airports where they’ve been trialing the technology. According to the TSA website, that data is “converted into an anonymized format,” encrypted and transferred “for temporary analysis to the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate, which will assess the effectiveness of this technology at the checkpoint.”

Is facial recognition secure?

Some critics of the technology point to the fact that the TSA plans to keep private information. And its true that the TSA suggested they would keep the data for “up to two years.” Some people are now asking “for what purpose?” It seems likely the government will create legislation to address privacy concerns for U.S. citizens. It is unclear how international visitors would be screened or how their information would be retained (and for what length of time).

Is facial recognition technology fair?

Another controversy related to just who the facial recognition software can identify. Some preliminary data suggests that the scanners are less accurate amongst people with medium to dark complexions. This raises a whole host of ethical issues – including, but not least of which is whether or not non-white travelers will be subjected to additional screening that their light-skinned counterparts will not.

A study published by the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2019 found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than White men, depending on the particular algorithm and type of search.

Is facial recognition screening mandatory?

At the moment, no. You choose to opt in or out at participating airports. Travelers feel incentivized by the comparative speed of this option.

Which airports are using the TSA’s facial recognition software to screen passengers?

According to the Washington Post, these airports are the 16 currently using facial recognition software:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (GA)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (MA)
  • Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (MD)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (VA)
  • Denver International Airport (CO)
  • Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (TX)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (MI)
  • Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (MS)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (MS)
  • Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (NV)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (CA)
  • Orlando International Airport (FL)
  • Miami International Airport (FL)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (AZ)
  • San Jose International Airport (CA)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (UT)

What do you think? Is facial recognition technology the future of airport security? Are you okay with the privacy and potential ethical issues we’ve highlighted?

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