The Transportation Security Administration announced on Tuesday that it will begin a new program that allows a travelers’ fingerprints to replace their boarding pass and identification documents. There’s only one catch: you have to give the federal government your fingerprints.
The agency will begin assessing the new “biometric authentication technology” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Denver International Airport this week, according to a TSA press release. The program is intended for people who have enrolled in TSA’s PreCheck program, and have voluntarily provided their fingerprints to the feds.
“The technology matches passenger fingerprints provided at the checkpoint to those that have previously been provided to TSA by travelers when they enrolled in the TSA PreP,” the agency said in a press release.
When the technology matches the fingerprint to a pre-check traveler, it is able to obtain boarding pass information through the Secure Flight database, which is described on the TSA’s website as “a risk-based passenger prescreening program that enhances security by identifying low and high-risk passengers before they arrive at the airport by matching their names against trusted traveler lists and watch lists.”
“TSA looks at technologies and intelligence capabilities that allow us to analyze and secure the travel environment, passengers and their property,” said TSA Acting Assistant Administrator Steve Karoly of the Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis. “Through these and other technology demonstrations, we are looking to reinvent and enhance security effectiveness to meet the evolving threat and ensure that passengers get to their destinations safely.”
But privacy activists are wary of programs, even voluntary ones like TSA PreP, which they see as a way for the government to collect information about people that could be used for nefarious purpose.
“If you sign up, you’ll want to keep your nose clean for the rest of your life,” Gregory Nojeim, a director at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told the Washington Post in 2013 after the TSA first rolled out its program. “Because that’s how long the FBI will keep your fingerprints.”
He added that the information the TSA collects is stored in a database for 75 years. That database, he said, is accessed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies looking to match fingerprints to those lifted from crime scenes, and for background checks.
“What started as a criminal database to link arrestees to other crimes is being turned into an all-purpose database of fingerprint identifiers,” Nojeim said at the time.
Though the new fingerprint program is intended for those who’ve already been accepted into TSA PreP, the agency said that “passengers who have not provided fingerprints to TSA through the TSA PreP application program are also invited to use the system since it provides valuable information to TSA during the proof of concept.”