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Controversial FAA Bill Passes Senate, Promotes Digital IDs and Mobile Licenses, Facial Recognition Concerns Ignored

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The US Senate has passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization act, which enjoyed bipartisan support, with an overwhelming majority (88-4).

The legislation includes a push to introduce digital ID and digital or mobile driver’s licenses, and will be considered by the House this week – the final hurdle before, if approved, it gets signed by President Biden.

The section dealing with acceptance of digital IDs and driver’s licenses is buried and we found it on page 1,015 of the document.

We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.

It reads that the FAA administrator “shall take such actions as may be necessary to accept, in any instance where an individual is required to submit government-issued identification to the Administrator, a digital or mobile driver’s license or identification card issued to such individual by a state.”

While adopting the bill, the Senate left out an amendment drafted by Senator Jeff Merkley, meant to temporarily halt wider deployment of facial recognition tools at US airports.

The Democrat’s idea was to impose a moratorium on biometric surveillance proliferation by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at least over the next three years.

The reasoning behind the amendment was that the current usage of facial recognition technology lacks transparency and results in travelers being poorly, if at all, aware of their rights in this regard.

The Senate chose to ignore the amendment, which wasn’t even put up for a vote, despite it making what appears to be a reasonable demand to ensure people can make informed decisions about participation in the schemes – namely, provide “simple and clear signage, spoken announcements, or other accessible notifications” about the ability to opt-out.

Yet this is something US Travel Association CEO Geoff Freeman dismissed as “dangerous and costly.” And Freeman doesn’t measure cost here in terms of safety and privacy of personal data, but “traveler hours a year” that would allegedly be added to wait times if travelers’ rights were better protected.

But Merkley noted in a post on X, responding to Freeman’s statement, that this is not true even according to the TSA, whose site states that people opting out of facial recognition does not add to wait times.

Once signed into law, the reauthorized act would provide the FAA with some $105 billion and the National Transportation Safety Board with $738 million to carry out various “safety and technology upgrades.”

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