If you’ve taken an international flight lately, you may not have
What is Facial Recognition?
Facial recognition, or biometric boarding as it’s also called, is a passenger verification process that takes a picture of your face at the security checkpoint. That picture is then compared against a number of pictures the US Customs & Border Protection has collected from passports and visas. Once you’re verified through the screening, you’re allowed through security and can board the plane.
“Airlines have reported faster boarding when using the e-gate, and the process is more secure,” Charles Pannunzio, Public Relations Specialist at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) tells Parentology.
According to US Customs & Border Protection, the entire process takes less than two seconds and has a 99 percent matching rate. A British Airways spokesperson recently told NBC News the technology allowed them to board 400 passengers in just 22 minutes, less than half of the usual time it takes with traditional screening procedures.
Pannunzio says LAX is currently using facial recognition at three specially-equipped boarding gates and there are plans to have similar gates available at the new Midfield Satellite Concourse. Right now, 10 airlines participate in the program at LAX including British Airways, Air France and Qantas.
Under an executive order signed by President Trump, facial recognition will be in place at the nation’s top 20 airports by 2021 for all international passengers. The President says the move is to protect the nation “from terrorist activities by foreign nationals admitted to the United States”.
Privacy Concerns Surrounding Facial Recognition at Airports
While the move may be an effort to prevent terrorism, some people see it as an invasion of privacy. Many are worried the database of photos may be used for other purposes without their consent. Others are simply concerned the government is being too intrusive with the facial scans and that their privacy is being violated.
According to the Customs & Border Patrol, photos of US citizens are discarded within 12 hours of identity verification. The photos of non-citizens are kept for 14 days. It also sends photos of non-citizens to the Department of Homeland Security, which stores information on visitors to the US for 75 years. If people still aren’t comfortable with facial recognition, they can opt-out, but that’s a choice available for US citizens only.
While the numbers of those who’ve opted out of facial recognition differ from airline to airline, Delta reports only two percent of its approximate 25,000 weekly passengers
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) advises those who don’t want to take part in the screening to tell a TSA officer and they will go through the standard identification process with their passport.
Besides privacy concerns, there are worries facial recognition may not always be accurate. Studies have shown some facial recognition algorithms are less accurate for people depending on gender and skin color. The TSA reports it’s continually refining the system to minimize the number of false matches. Their tests have shown .03 percent incorrect matches. If a passenger doesn’t have a positive match, they’ll go through the standard verification process.
Charles Pannunzio, Public Relations Specialist at Los Angeles International Airport
Custom & Border Protection
Transportation Safety Administration
Department of Homeland Security