Our Views: Biometrics will add security to TSA, but at what personal cost?

December 22, 2018

Arizona’s driver’s licenses get a lot of attention: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s efforts to keep them out of the hands of undocumented aliens who are protected from deportation and known as “dreamers.”

Not so long ago, the licenses’ use was expanded to be used for voting in person.

Before that, the licenses were the focal point of arguments about whether Arizona residents would have to comply with federal “Real I.D.” law provisions that apply to boarding commercial airliners.

We wonder if all these issues aren’t on the verge of becoming obsolete thanks to the fast emergence of biometric identification in both private and public life. New smart phone models offer the option. Some businesses are headed that way, including an announcement last week by Hertz, which will use biometrics to speed the car rental experience.

Perhaps the most widespread use in the near future will be the U.S. government, in particular the Transportation Security Administration. It has published an outline of plans to increase the use of biometrics throughout the airport security process and to borders.

Mandated by law to do so, the TSA plan is likely to use fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scans as part of airport security. It’s first announcements of the plans introduced the concept of sharing biometric data with other government agencies.

As a strong tool in the effort to stop bad things from happening, biometrics offers the potential as a powerful weapon. Recognizing this, there’s little question other agencies charged with protecting public security will opt in as partners. There is a flip side, though, in that the new tool offers the potential for misuse and the loss of very personal data.

No doubt most people would approve of more efficiency and quicker lines at airports. Most, in fact, are even willing to sacrifice some personal privacy to assure the government has the tools to identify bad actors.

Fewer, we suspect, are so agreeable to the idea of letting hackers get their personal biometric information to fully round out identity theft. Few want the information to be used by overzealous government employees, we guess.

The program would also garner stronger support if it were accurate and, conversely, addressed what TSA or any partner agency would do in the case of misidentification.

Drivers’ licenses may be yesterday’s identification topic, but the new biometric programs are likely to raise new and even more complex questions regarding national security, personal privacy and the need for securing the valuable and very personal data that goes with these programs.

— Today’s News-Herald

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