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The TSA Is Testing the Use of Fingerprints to Replace Boarding Passes

Photo by Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

On Tuesday, the TSA announced a pilot program using new biometric technology to replace boarding passes and IDs with quick fingerprint scans.

Fingerprint check-ins are being tested at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Denver International Airport for people enrolled in TSA Precheck. If all goes well, these scans will automate and speed up the check-in process.

The program is voluntary, but there are some safety concerns similar to the concerns that people had when TSA Precheck and Global Re-Entry were first announced. For example, information that the TSA collects is available to federal, state and local law enforcement for background checks and for solving crimes. And, the data is kept for 75 years.

Also, with more advanced technology like face scans and fingerprints, the government will have access to more information about you. And, it is unclear what the government plans to do with this information.

“It’s a technology that can easily be used for mass, indiscriminate surveillance,” said Jeramie Scott, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to The Washington Post. “Any use for facial recognition for something like this — where it’s the government or companies running a facial recognition search on people — needs to be scrutinized very closely by the public, because of the serious risk of mission creep.”

Scott also notes that there aren’t any laws that prevent the government from using your information for other surveillance-related plans. However, the fingerprints being used for the program were already collected from applications for TSA Precheck and Global Re-Entry.

While the program is still being piloted, participants will still need to show their boarding passes and IDs, which could (ironically) slow down wait times slightly. The TSA has not given details on how long this pilot program will last or when it will roll out nationwide if successful.

Similar programs like CLEAR, a service that lets people pass ID inspection through fingerprint or iris scans, have already been implemented in more than 18 cities. Earlier this month, Delta began testing a similar program that let passengers use fingerprints in place of plane tickets at Reagan National Airport in Washington.

Fingerprint scans seem like a big time-saver, and they’re no doubt helpful to those who have forgotten their IDs or boarding passes before. There are still notable concerns over privacy, but the program does signal an exciting change toward airports with fewer annoyances.


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