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Facial Recognition at DFW Could Cause Serious Problems (Opinion)

Some argue the balance between privacy and security is at risk with a plan to put facial-recognition technology in the hands of law enforcement at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

by The Dallas Morning News / December 13, 2018
Shutterstock/Casey Martin

(TNS) — The promise that technology will lead to greater security is such an accepted truism it’s hardly questioned.

But as Dallas/Fort Worth Airport begins to roll out facial-recognition tech, we are skeptical about the plan — first whether it will lead to greater security and second whether appropriate measures can be put in place to give people confidence their privacy will be protected.

After the 9/11 attacks, the government required airports to ramp up security measures. Now, nearly 20 years later, we are accustomed to the misery of getting on a plane, the lines, the boxes, the machines, the specific indignities in the name of general safety.

While plenty of questions abound about the efficacy of the Transportation Security Administration's practices and procedures, we must acknowledge that terrorists have not repeated the destruction they brought upon us on Sept. 11.

The expansion of technological scrutiny is sold as a way to both increase our safety and reduce the cattle call experience of getting on a plane.

Still, people have a right and a reason to be concerned about new tools in the hand of law enforcement even when it is meant to protect us — not that we should be surprised its coming.

The technology rolled out to some airports last year under the direction of Customs and Border Protection. Foreign nationals, by law, get their faces scanned when entering and leaving the country. Those images are matched against passport photos or photos submitted with visa applications and stored on what CBP says is a secure cloud system.

The system does have success stories, and that’s encouraging. Two people flying into Washington Dulles International Airport were flagged and found to have been traveling with passports that did not belong to them. That’s great news, right? Yes in that case. But perhaps not in others. A General Accounting Office report of the FBI’s system misidentified people 14 percent of the time. That’s not acceptable.

Beyond the false positives, there are concerns about the use of the technology and whether it is necessary. It’s great that using facial recognition can cut the boarding time of a plane holding 350 passengers in half the time it takes to manually review passports but advocates haven’t settled the debate about passenger safety.

Meanwhile, there is the question of what the government will do with the information it collects. How will Customs and Border Patrol use the stored information? How long the agency will keep the information on file? The agency also says the information is secure, but trusting our data to others has become an iffy prospect at best.

Lastly, there’s still the question of whether or not the government has the authority to use facial recognition on American citizens. Right now, the scans are optional for Americans, but we don’t know if that will last and there are certainly Fourth Amendment concerns.

As this technology continues to roll out, the government must be transparent in how it’s used and what they’re doing with the data. We get that people want to get to an airport and get on a plane as quickly as possible, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of perceived safety or violations of privacy.

©2018 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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