Senators Object to Airport Facial Scans, Calling Them Invasive, Inaccurate

Democrat and Republican lawmakers say pilot program run by Department of Homeland Security raises privacy concerns for U.S. citizens.

byKate Gibson|
Senators Object to Airport Facial Scans, Calling Them Invasive, Inaccurate

Two U.S. senators on Thursday urged federal officials to stop the expansion of a $1 billion airport facial screening program, questioning the accuracy of the technology used on those boarding international flights.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Utah Republican Mike Lee and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey said the biometric exit pilot program now in use at nine U.S. airports raised privacy concerns for travelers, including U.S. citizens.

The senators said the system could lead to a false denial for one in 25 travelers, meaning thousands could be wrongfully denied boarding each day. 

"We request that DHS stop the expansion of this program and provide Congress with its explicit statutory authority to use and expand a biometric exit program on U.S. citizens,” they wrote.

The senators questioned whether the federal agency could proceed without congressional approval, and also pointed to a report released Thursday that found the program was inappropriately collecting personal information on Americans. 

Homeland Security had not gone through the mandated federal rule-making process before putting the technology into use, found researchers at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University’s law school. 

The report noted high error rates in facial recognition scans, which frequently don't identify a person as female or African-American.