The TSA Begins Testing Biometric Recognition Checkpoints

Last Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would begin testing biometric recognition software. The pilot program, which will take place at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), is designed to cut down the interaction between TSA employees and passengers.

Delta Getty
TSA starts testing biometric recognition at Reagan National. Photo: Getty Images

The way the system works is that passengers will put their photo ID into a scanning device rather than handing it to a TSA officer for inspection. The scanning machine will then take a facial scan of the passenger and try and match it with the photo ID.

In just a few seconds, the results of the scan, ID, and the passenger’s flight information will show up on a screen being monitored by the TSA officer. For safety reasons due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, TSA officers working at the airport will be seated behind protective plastic dividers.

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TSA officers just monitor screens

The new system follows on from other TSA initiatives like allowing passengers to scan their boarding passes, cutting out TSA agents’ need to handle tickets and documents physically.

“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

“As a result, we are exploring rapid testing and deployment of this touchless, self-service technology. At the conclusion of the pilot, we expect to be able to determine how positioning the new technology will allow passengers to use it themselves, thereby providing a safer checkpoint experience, while adding significant security benefits.”

Facial recognition
Biometrics facial checking will cut down the interaction between the TSA and passengers. Photo: Department of Homeland Security

Facial recognition and other biometric screening types were starting to become more widespread at airports worldwide, even before the coronavirus. Unlike DCA, which is used for domestic flights, facial recognition technology has already been rolled out at Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).

President Donald Trump has said that he wants to see facial recognition technology operating in the nation’s 20 busiest airports by 2021. The goal of this is to screen all international passengers entering or exiting the country.

Eurostar uses facial recognition

Facial recognition is already used at most European airports, with Eurostar also now using it for its train services between London and the continent. This is a first for international rail travel and something that could be adopted in other countries.

Eurostar uses facial recognition for people traveling between London and Europe. Photo: Eurostar

While passengers have expressed concerns about their IDs being used for other purposes, the TSA says that the machines cannot store the information.

The new scanners were used at LAS

Before being trialed in Washington D.C., the biometric scanners underwent a 30-day trial at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS). Las Vegas is the so-called TSA go-to airport for testing new equipment. The new system in D.C. can now be used by passengers who have TSA PreCheck and would like to volunteer in the trial.

TSA PreCheck is a program run by the TSA to help frequent flyers avoid lengthy delays at airports. To obtain TSA PreCheck status, you must agree to a background check, be fingerprinted, and attend a ten-minute interview. There is also an $85 charge for the service, which frequent flyer credit cards include in their perks.

Love it or hate it, facial recognition at airports is becoming more commonplace all the time. What do you think about it? Please let us know in the comments.