Facial Recognition at US Airports. Since 2017, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has rolled out facial recognition technology in collaboration with airlines to improve safety. This technology can uniquely identify or verify an individual by comparing and analyzing patterns based on the facial contours of the individual. This technology was operational at 15 US airports by the end of 2018. Within the next four years, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through its Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects more than 90% of departing travelers use facial recognition technology.
The facial recognition technology is used for multiple purposes. One, it is used to verify passengers’ identities when boarding by scanning their faces, eliminating the need to manually check the passengers’ tickets or boarding passes. Another, is to offer, as the CBP call it, “biometric entry/exit,” which provides officials understanding of who is leaving and entering the country. At the departure gate, the facial recognition system photographs passengers and cross references the photos against a gallery of such passengers’ pictures, taken from their passport or visa applications. This enables authorities to identify overstayed travelers. In the past, tested using the facial technology on over 15,000 flights, the CBP has identified at least 7,000 individuals who had overstayed their visas. The agency calculated 666,582 passengers overstayed their visa in fiscal 2018, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of a 10-year ban on entry into the United States.
Delta was one of the first airlines who had implemented a “biometric terminal” in the United States. Delta travelers traveling internationally can opt for biometric options when departing select Delta’s terminals, such as Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. While passengers may opt out, passengers’ photos are still part of their gallery of pictures that may be used by officials for identity verifications.
PRIVACY CONCERNS OVER THE FACIAL RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY
Despite the CBP’s contention that the Biometric Exit is not a surveillance program, the government is sitting with millions of biometric information – which can be easily be used for tracking without one’s consent or knowledge, given regulations governing use of such information are still lacking.
TSA is still currently testing its biometrics solutions and states participation remains voluntary. On its website, TSA provides that passengers may notify a TSA officer if passengers wish to proceed with the manual identification verification. TSA Biometrics Roadmap regarding its biometrics efforts is available here.