The Port of Seattle has placed a moratorium on the
implementation of biometric technology, delaying a plan by Delta and U.S.
Customs and Border Protection to begin using facial recognition at
international boarding gates at Seattle-Tacoma Airport before the end of this
The moratorium, passed by the port's commission Tuesday,
will stay in place pending the development of facial-recognition policies by a
newly formed working group, which is tasked with completing those policies by
March 31. Subsequently, the port commission plans to formally adopt facial-recognition
policies by June 30.
CBP has thus far introduced biometric facial-recognition
technology for U.S. entry, exit or both at 25 U.S. airports. Facial-recognition
kiosks are deployed at international gates pursuant to a mandate from Congress
that CBP collect biometric records on all foreign nationals departing the U.S.
At those gates, photos are taken of fliers and then matched to passport photos
that the Department of Homeland Security keeps on file. CBP says processing
takes less than two seconds.
Photos of international visitors will be held for years and
can also be used to check FBI and terrorist watchlists.
U.S. citizens can opt out of the process and instead choose
a manual passport check. For the majority who don’t opt out, the CBP says it
holds the photos for no more than 12 hours and doesn’t share the data with
Still, the CBP's deployment of facial-recognition technology
at airports and other ports has drawn criticism from privacy advocates. For
more than a year, lawmakers have called upon the agency to complete a formalized
rulemaking process to address privacy and data-security concerns before further
expansion of the biometric exit program.
A 2018 proposal by CBP, which surfaced only last week, would
have made biometric screening mandatory for U.S. citizens. The proposal is now
shelved -- a decision CBP says it made over the summer -- but its emergence
further inflamed the debate.
The Port of Seattle's principles for facial
recognition state the implementation must be justified and conducted with a
clear and intended purpose; voluntary for U.S. citizens; private, with data
stored no longer than required; equitable and accurate in identifying people of
all backgrounds; transparently communicated; and lawfully and ethically
In a statement, Delta said its "optional biometrics program
appears either to meet or exceed the guiding principles in the motion that the
Port of Seattle adopted governing the use of biometrics technology."
"Currently available to Delta customers at seven U.S.
airports, the technology adheres to high standards for data security and
customer privacy -- a responsibility Delta takes extremely seriously. We will
continue working with the port as they develop their policy with the goal of
bringing this technology to Sea-Tac and transforming the airport experience for