Banning Biometrics at Airports Would “Create Chaos,” Says U.S. Travel

Flying down to Palm Beach International Airport from LaGuardia International Airport last week for Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Summit, we approached the TSA worker who would typically look at our ID as we scan our boarding pass before heading through the screening process. Instead of the typical PreCheck line we would use, we instead used the new Digital ID line—available to those who opt into Delta's biometric program. Removing neither our ID or boarding pass, we looked at a camera for hardly a second and next thing we knew the TSA agent said, “Thank you,” and we carried on. There were no issues with our process, nor anyone in line ahead of us.

This process, however—should Congress pass an amendment to the latest Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill—could be disallowed. Senators Jeff Merkley and John Kennedy, alongside four other cosponsors, last month introduced an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would “immediately prevent the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from using most automated facial matching technology at airport checkpoints.”

According to a U.S. Travel Association analysis, the proposed amendment could result in travelers waiting an additional 120 million hours in TSA lines each year by significantly slowing both TSA PreCheck and standard screening lanes. Further, “the senators’ proposal threatens national security by effectively banning TSA’s use of facial recognition technology for non-PreCheck passengers–which mal-intentioned individuals could exploit,” U.S. Travel said. The result could be “chaos,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

The Merkley/Kennedy Amendment, according to U.S. Travel, would enforce a total ban on TSA’s use of facial recognition technology (FRT) until TSA complies with “costly and unworkable requirements.” This would result in TSA retraining staff, removing and redeploying technology, and reconfiguring screening lanes. The proposal would also ban the use of FRT for non-trusted travelers and stop expansion of FRT matching technology to new airports until May 2027, while stopping expansion and enrollment in TSA PreCheck Touchless Identity Solution beyond existing customers and six airports where it is in use today (ATL, DTW, LAX, LGA, JFK and ORD).

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