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A TSA agent checks in passengers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, August 24, 2016. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Transportation Security Administration is preparing to launch its 4th round of facial recognition testing at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, as part of the agency's multi-year plan to pilot using passengers' biometric data at security checkpoints.

The big picture: The federal government sees the tests as an effort to boost the efficiency and effectiveness of airport screening. But some privacy and surveillance analysts at the ACLU and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonprofit watchdog organization, raise concerns that the technology could ultimately turn airports into police checkpoints.

Details: The facial recognition test at McCarran will last 30 days, according to TSA media manager Dani Bennett. Only travelers in the TSA Precheck lane will be able to volunteer. Through a Credential Authentication Technology device equipped with a camera (CAT-C), passengers' live facial images will be captured and verified against their IDs or usual documentation.

  • Passengers' data will be collected by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate and deleted after 180 days, at the latest.
  • A TSA agent will manually verify passenger identities against travel documents after the facial matching result is recorded, regardless of the match results.

Between the lines: "CBP and TSA have never shown what type of training materials they use to make sure agents don't rely improperly on what face recognition systems say," Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at POGO's Constitution Project said. "If I was an agent and a computer system told me it was a mismatch, I'd probably get suspicious."

Background: TSA started "testing biometrics solutions for identity verification purposes in 2015," according to its website.

  • In October 2017, the agency tested Customs and Border Protection's facial recognition technology at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
  • In 2018, TSA tested facial recognition for verifying boarding passes and enhanced body scanners at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Its test at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is ongoing.

What else they're saying: Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said that it "wouldn’t be surprising" if the TSA's facial recognition or CAT-C checkpoints were used for general law enforcement purposes. "We don’t think that they should or legally can," he added.

  • "If TSA has a built up face recognition system that scans everyone in airports, it's only a matter of time before law enforcement starts demanding they send them logs of travels," Laperruque said. "What will the TSA do when the FBI asks to tap into this system for surveillance purposes?"

Go deeper: House Democrats ask DHS to address use of facial recognition on U.S. citizens

Go deeper

Asymptotic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.

Biden steps into the breach

Sen. Joe Manchin heads to a meeting with President Biden today. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden ramped up the pressure on his fellow Democrats Wednesday, calling a series of lawmakers to the White House in the hope of ending infighting and getting them in line.

Why it matters: Divisions within the party are threatening to derail Biden's top priorities. After several weeks of letting negotiations play out, the president is finally asserting his power to ensure his own party doesn't block his agenda.