Nation & World

Facial recognition may get you on a plane faster

Should you worry about your privacy?

Getty Images/TNS

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer instructs an international traveler to look into a camera as he uses facial recognition technology to screen a traveler entering the United States at Miami International Airport earlier this year.
Getty Images/TNS A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer instructs an international traveler to look into a camera as he uses facial recognition technology to screen a traveler entering the United States at Miami International Airport earlier this year.

Say goodbye to standing in long lines clutching boarding passes and other travel documents.

Step this way, instead. Look into the camera lens and off you go.

Sound convenient? Technology companies working with travel providers and the federal government to install facial recognition systems at airports and cruise terminals hope you think so.

But privacy advocates don’t want you to become too comfortable. They worry that what we’re willing to accept for convenience sake today will soften our resistance to the idea of filling public spaces with cameras that can identify us and track our every move.

At the new Terminal 25 in Port Everglades, Fla., passengers heading for their Royal Caribbean cruises can breeze through check-in and boarding if they preregistered at home — thanks to a system developed for the cruise line by California-based biometrics developer Tascent.

At PortMiami, Royal Caribbean worked with another provider, IDEMIA, on a facial recognition system used to speed debarkation. IDEMIA’s MFace high-speed 3D face capture technology scans faces of travelers leaving ships and instantly verifies their identities by matching the scans with images collected at the beginning of cruises.

Miami International Airport launched a biometric entry pilot program in November 2017 that’s capable of screening up to 10 passengers a minute — reducing passenger wait times by 20 percent to 80 percent, the airport said on its website.

The system works by comparing travelers’ scanned facial images to images on their passports.

At the airport’s Gate J17, Lufthansa fliers can forego boarding passes entirely and present just their faces. Additional airlines are expected to get the technology this year.

JetBlue offers a similar facial recognition system to speed boarding for select international flights at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

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The new programs join other biometric scanning technologies, such as CLEAR, which identifies passengers using eye and fingerprint scans.

That technology, which requires pre-enrollment, enables passengers to skip the document presentation line, but not the physical Transportation Security Administration inspection line.

CLEAR is available at 28 U.S. airports, for $179 a year.

“There’s a fear we have of increased normalization of this,” said Adam Schwartz, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a story published in the Hill in December 2017.

“Once people start doing facial recognition on an airplane, they’ll get used to it in a supermarket. And then all of a sudden our lives become more and more on display.”

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