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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

Updated 40 mins ago - Economy & Business

2020 was the economy's worst year since 1946

Source: FRED; Billions of chained 2012 dollars; Chart: Axios Visuals

One of the last major economic report cards of the Trump era lends perspective to the historic damage caused by the pandemic, which continued to weigh on growth in the final quarter of 2020.

By the numbers: The U.S. economy grew at a 4% annualized pace in the fourth quarter, a sharp slowdown in growth compared to the prior quarter. For the full year, the economy shrank by 3.5% — the first annual contraction since the financial crisis and the worst decline since 1946.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

How GameStop exposed the market

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Retail traders have found a cheat code for the stock market, and barring some major action from regulatory authorities or a massive turn in their favored companies, they're going to keep using it to score "tendies" and turn Wall Street on its head.

What's happening: The share prices of companies like GameStop are rocketing higher, based largely on the social media organizing of a 3-million strong group of Redditors who are eagerly piling into companies that big hedge funds are short selling, or betting will fall in price.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
3 hours ago - Health

Who benefits from Biden's move to reopen ACA enrollment

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nearly 15 million Americans who are currently uninsured are eligible for coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than half of them would qualify for subsidies, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation brief.

Why it matters: President Biden is expected to announce today that he'll be reopening the marketplaces for a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 to May 15, but getting a significant number of people to sign up for coverage will likely require targeted outreach.