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Saturday, June 15th, 2024

Traveler Privacy Protection Act would ban collection of biometric data by TSA

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Under legislation recently proposed by a collection of six senators – the Traveler Privacy Protection Act – the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would be banned from using facial recognition technology and collecting facial biometric data at airports in the United States.

“Passengers should not have to choose between safety and privacy when they travel. Despite our repeated calls for TSA to halt its unacceptable use of facial recognition technologies, the agency has continued to expand its use across the country,” U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), one of the bill’s signatories, said. “I am glad to partner with Senators Merkley and Kennedy on the Traveler Privacy Protection Act to halt TSA’s use of this invasive technology. Travelers should be able to fly without checking their right to privacy in alongside their luggage.”

The bill was introduced this week by U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and John Kennedy (R-LA), but they were also joined by Markey and U.S. Sens. Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The TSA has utilized facial recognition in its efforts for some time, and the senators accused the agency’s efforts of being the largest attempt to create a national facial recognition system of domestic travelers. According to the TSA itself, 2.9 million people were screened at airports across the country.

Thousands are scanned daily, and Merkley asserted that no government should be trusted with such power.

“Every day, TSA scans thousands of Americans’ faces without their permission and without making it clear that travelers can opt out of the invasive screening,” Kennedy said. “The Traveler Privacy Protection Act would protect every American from Big Brother’s intrusion by ending the facial recognition program.”

The senators want a return to traditional identity verification methods, in direct opposition to TSA’s stated intentions to implement facial recognition scans at more than 430 airports over several years. That, the bill’s supporters claimed, represents a grave violation of American civil liberties, and leaves millions in the dark about their personal data’s use.

To counter this, the bill would not only repeal existing authorization for TSA to pursue facial recognition technology, it would bar the agency from utilizing it without the explicit authorization of Congress. Any expansion of use would be immediately banned, and any facial biometrics data acquired by TSA would need to be purged within three months of the bill’s signing.

Outside the halls of Congress, the bill was also backed by groups such as the ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Private Citizen.

“Facial recognition and facial matching technology poses unnecessary and unacceptable risks for civil rights and civil liberties,” Cody Venzke, Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU, said. “In many situations, it has been demonstrated to be less accurate for people of color and women, and it threatens to enable to mass tracking and incursions into our privacy. The Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023 is a simple, crucial step to protecting our rights.”