Bipartisan Senate bill to ban TSA use of facial recognition technology gains support of civil rights groups

The bill aims to tackle TSA’s proposed plan to implement facial recognition scans at over 430 U.S. airports within the next several years.
surveillance facial recognition biometric camera
(Getty Images)

The Senate introduced bipartisan legislation this week that would ban the use of facial recognition technology and the collection of facial biometric data by the Transportation Security Administration in U.S. airports.

The Traveler Privacy Protection Act aims to tackle TSA’s proposed plan to implement facial recognition scans at over 430 U.S. airports within the next several years. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., John Kennedy, R-La., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

“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,” said Kennedy in a statement. “The Traveler Privacy Protection Act would protect every American from Big Brother’s intrusion by ending the facial recognition program.”

Civil and digital rights groups like the ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center and others have come out strongly in favor of the legislation, which they say will tackle facial recognition technology’s infringement on people’s privacy and discriminatory practices against people of color and women in particular.


“This bill will most help marginalized communities like Muslim Americans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color and  others systematically targeted by law enforcement and TSA,” said Albert Cahn, the executive director and founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.).

“No one should have this invasive and harmful tech used against them when the mistakes of this tech are so great. We’ve seen so many people wrongly committed for crimes they didn’t commit and TSA’s mass adoption of facial recognition could allow faulty algorithmic analysis arrests to go through the roof,” Cahn told FedScoop during an interview.

In particular, Cahn said that TSA “has a really dubious track record with tech procurement,” because it spends millions of tax dollars on bag scanners and other technology “that their own analysis shows misses weapons and aren’t effective.”

“Many of us are not willing to criticize TSA because we want peace of mind and security when we travel. But the agency’s track record doesn’t inspire much confidence at all, so we shouldn’t accept facial recognition as a false safety blanket,” said Cahn.

Some leaders in the Senate said attempts to stop TSA’s facial recognition technology from scaling have not succeeded and new legislation is needed.


“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,” Sen. Markey said in a statement.

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