Tell the Port Commission to Push Back Against Face Surveillance

Monday, March 9, 2020
Tell the Port Commission to Delay Tomorrow’s Vote on Facial Surveillance at SeaTac International Airport
The Port of Seattle has scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday 3/10 (tomorrow) on the issue of face surveillance at SeaTac. After a public comment period, the Port will vote on whether to collaborate with Customs and Border Protection to implement facial recognition at SeaTac, and how this facial recognition program should be rolled out.   

This Port Commission meeting needs to be postponed. Given the COVID-19 public health crisis, and the fact that committee notes and scheduled meetings on this issue have not been regularly posted on the Port’s website, the public has not had a chance to meaningfully weigh in on this topic. This meeting needs to be rescheduled. 

Please join us in calling our Port Commissioners (who are elected officials) and ask for the 3/10 meeting to be postponed.  

Click here to send an email to the Seattle Port Commission  

Example message: 
Hello, I’m calling to express concern about the implementation of face surveillance at SeaTac, and urge the Port Commission to postpone the public hearing on this issue. Given the COVID-19 public health crisis and the lack of adequate public outreach about biometrics use at the Port, I encourage this meeting to be rescheduled so that the public can engage and weigh in. As elected officials, the Port Commissioners must listen to the public's concerns before making a decision. Thank you.” 

On December 10, 2019, the Port of Seattle became the first Port in the country to pass a partial moratorium on new uses of facial recognition technology at SeaTac International Airport, largely in response to community pushback against racially biased and powerful facial recognition technology. While Commissioners at the Dec 2019 public hearing stated that all options were on the table, including the option of the Port prohibiting deployment of any public-facing biometrics, it seems like a decision to charge ahead has already been made--without giving impacted communities and the public a meaningful opportunity to weigh in.
In January 2020, an industry-heavy Biometrics External Advisory Group was formed to provide feedback to Port staff and Port Commissioners on how the Port should proceed. Soon after, the Port posted a Request for Proposal (RFP) for shared-use Port-owned facial recognition systems at SeaTac International Airport. Though Advisory Group members were told that the purpose of the RFP was solely for “market research,” the text of the RFP states that the Port is committed to helping U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deploy a permanent biometric system for departing international flights at SeaTac. There is a contradiction here. The Port cannot state that it is committed to deploying a permanent biometric system to prospective bidders through its formal RFP while stating to the Advisory Group and the public that no commitments have been made.

Now, a vote has been scheduled for March 10, on authorizing the Port Executive to purchase and install biometrics - knowing that same Executive made a written commitment to CBP in 2018 to do the very same thing.
Community groups have been told that CBP has a federal mandate to verify the identity of all outbound passengers who are not US residents using biometrics, and that CBP has decided to use facial recognition and collaborate with airlines in carrying out its mandate. While U.S. residents are supposedly able to opt out of this facial recognition program, an airline representative shared that just 2% of people opt out, indicating that people are not fully informed of their rights to opt out of face surveillance.  

The ACLU and community groups in the Biometrics External Advisory Group have expressed concerns about the Port's plans to collaborate with CBP in rolling out their biometrics program. We and many others have stated that the Port should not be facilitating the infrastructural expansion of face surveillance technology that is rife with race and gender biases. Even if this technology were perfectly accurate, its use poses great threats to our constitutionally protected rights and civil liberties. We’ve noted that air-exit facial recognition is the first step in CBP’s plan to deploy face surveillance throughout airports across the US. The prospect of our Port collaborating in rolling out CBP's plan is of great concern, and we must push back. 

The Port of Seattle, which is a public entity composed of elected officials, must now decide if they will collaborate with CBP to implement facial recognition, and whether they will allow airlines to do so at SeaTac International Airport. The Commission must also determine how to best inform passengers of their rights, and whether facial recognition should in fact be “opt-in” versus “opt-out”.  
How the Port of Seattle Commission votes on this issue will inform the future of airport privacy across the United States. The public needs a meaningful opportunity the adequate time to provide input on this decision. Please join us in calling for a delay to tomorrow’s vote!  
Want to track this issue with the ACLU-WA Technology & Liberty Project team? Contact Savannah to join this effort – [email protected]