Topic Update: Sea-Tac Suspends the Introduction of New Biometric Technologies

Topic Update: Sea-Tac Suspends the Introduction of New Biometric Technologies

Biometric Technology on hold at Sea-Tac

After hearing impassioned public comments from citizens and civil liberty groups about facial recognition technologies, the Port of Seattle Commission has voted unanimously to expand studies on how and where the technology would be implemented at the airport and cruise ship terminals.

With this move, Sea-Tac became the first airport to resist federal push for biometric technologies until the commission adopts “tangible, enforceable” policies to govern their use.

The commission has also suspended Delta’s plans to roll-out facial-recognition cameras at its Sea-Tac gates for now.

The voting, though, did not suspend biometric technologies used by Port staff (finger prints to access secure areas, for example), neither did it impact biometric technology uses on areas controlled by the federal government. U.S. Custom and Border Protection plans to deploy some form of facial recognition technology in its own secured areas which do not require Port’s permission, such as at a new facility processing arriving international travelers in July 2020.

Commissioner Courtney Gregoire claims that, before cameras are installed and activated, the port must have guidelines to how such technologies are used in public port or airport areas, and who controls the data – “we are not going to be one of the 20 airports (in the U.S.) to deploy this technology before we have a policy in place.”

Port of Seattle’s commissioners plan on developing recommendations governing “public facing” biometric uses by March 30, and deciding what specific policies should be adopted, tentatively by the end of June 2020.

Sources:, “Sea-Tac is first airport to resist federal push for facial recognition and other biometric technologies” by Katherine Khashimova Long. Dec. 10, 2019, “Alaska, Delta back use of biometrics at Sea-Tac Airport” byAndrew McIntosh. Dec 11, 2019