T he Transportation Security Administration is testing facial recognition technology at a number of airports across the country to, as Jason Lim, identity management capabilities manager at TSA, put it, "... aid the officers to actually determine that you are who you say you are."
The program is being tested in major airports like Reagan National in D.C. and big airports like DFW, LAX and Miami, but at least one small, relatively close one is Jackson, Miss. As we might have expected, the idea of using this kind of technology has a number of Americans concerned about their rights.
Our considered editorial opinion on their concerns: Eh. We'll get over it.
Admittedly, there are potential challenges with the technology, and there's no question that security of the security system is paramount, just as it is in all other things in this increasingly complex technological age. But we should take a step back and think about the merits of a couple of basic fundamental elements. What we're talking about is the use of "biometrics" and whether that stuff should be used for identification purposes.
"Biometrics" is unfortunately defined as "the automated recognition of individuals by means of unique physical characteristics, typically for the purposes of security." If we were running the jargon dictionary, we'd just say it was AI that could recognize folks.
Why is it a problem to confirm the identity of someone, not through an impersonal Social Security number, but rather through outward appearance? We humans do this from the time we get up in the morning to the time we click the lights off.
Will there be kinks in the system? Yes. Some are concerned about algorithms getting it wrong with certain demographic groups, and the system could be compromised by hackers.
News flash: Algorithms are fixable, and hacking is a daily concern for all businesses and organizations.
Some are concerned about "biometric surveillance," which is the government using facial recognition technology to track people who have a reason to be tracked.
This reminds us of the debate--the much-needed, well-reasoned, even elevated debate--that many Americans had about surveillance and civil rights after 9/11. Some of us are old enough to remember when laws were passed in Congress in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, which made it easier for the government to collect information from phone calls and emails with these supercomputers that could put two and two together at lightning speed.
When some activists warned that the government was getting carried away, one national political figure (Newt Gingrich) made the best point in those debates:
To wit: You're not going to believe how Americans will demand the government get more involved in surveillance if we have another 9/11.
The folks running transportation in this country want to make sure you are you before you get on an airplane. And the technology exists to double-check. Maybe triple-check. Some of us think putting up another obstacle for the bad guys not only keeps us safer in the short run, but in the long run keeps our privacy a little more protected because Americans won't be pounding the table, in the aftermath of disaster, demanding DNA tests at airport terminals.
And if it makes getting through security at an airport faster, all the better.