Senators Call for Limits on TSA’s Facial Recognition Technology

A bipartisan group of senators urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to limit TSA’s use of facial recognition technology.

The effort, led by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS), would “halt facial recognition technology at security checkpoints, which has proven to improve security effectiveness, efficiency, and the passenger experience,” TSA said in a statement, Associated Press reported.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), fourteen senators called for the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill to include a measure restricting facial recognition technology, as it “poses significant threats to our privacy and civil liberties.”

Before crossing the metal detector in 84 participating airports, travelers place their IDs into an electronic reader and have their picture taken.

Many travelers are unaware they can opt out of face scans, although TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency wants to make biometric verification required.

“While TSA states the program is optional, it is the stated intent of the TSA to expand this technology beyond the security checkpoint and require that passengers undergo facial recognition scans every time they travel,” the letter added.

“Once Americans become accustomed to government facial recognition scans, it will be that must easier for the government to scan citizens’ faces everywhere, from entry into government buildings, to passive surveillance on public property like parks, schools, and sidewalks,” the senators warned.

The fourteen senators who signed the letter are Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Edward Markey (D-MA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Steve Daines (R-MT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Laphonza Butler (D-CA).

In February 2023, TSA quietly implemented facial recognition technology.

The move followed a November 2022 announcement that TSA at the Denver International Airport (DEN) “deployed the next generation of Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) to verify the identity of travelers,” the agency said at the time.

“First generation CAT units are designed to scan a traveler’s photo identification, confirm the traveler’s identity as well as their flight details. The new CAT units, referred to as CAT-2, have the same capabilities, but are also equipped with a camera that captures a real-time photo of the traveler” for the sake of “identity verification.”