Whether you like it or not, the US government is going to scan your face at these 20 airports
Flying anywhere soon? You’ll soon be under the gaze of facial recognition cameras if you’re flying from any of the biggest airports in the US. That’s because of the current administration’s accelerated timeline for a biometric entry/exit system that was signed into law under Obama.
Eventually, the system will be tracking every single international passenger, including Americans, that passes through an American airport. An Executive Order that President Trump signed in 2017 set the goal for this system to be operational in the top 20 US airports in 2021. To give you a scale of the operations, the biometric scanning will be used on 16,300 flights per week, which works out as roughly 100 million passengers, almost a third of the population of the US.
That goal is now causing CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and DHS (United States Department of Homeland Security) to scramble to get the biometric system online in that short timeline. According to BuzzFeed News, that truncated timeline might mean that the usual regulatory safeguards and public commentary phase of adoption of any new technology are potentially being skipped.
According to a CBP spokesperson speaking with BuzzFeed News:
By partnering with airports and airlines to provide a secure stand-alone system that works quickly and reliably, which they will integrate into their boarding process, CBP does not have to rebuild everything from the ground up as we drive innovation across the travel experience.
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The system has drawn worries from privacy advocates, who say that facial recognition isn’t as accurate as it should be, carrying an inherent bias towards minorities. CBP says that its system’s confirmation rates have since risen to 98.6%, with a set match rate goal for in-scope travelers, which are those aged 14–79, of above 97%. CBP also has a goal of 0.1% false positives, that is, when the system matches a customer to the wrong records.
So, what airports should expect this technology first?
BuzzFeed News said airports currently included in the CBP’s facial recognition program are in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington (Dulles and Reagan), Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Hobby, Dallas-Fort Worth, JFK, Miami, San Jose, Orlando, and Detroit.
With no real laws around facial recognition, there’s nothing stopping the rollout of this system by CBP. Back in July, and again in December of last year, Microsoft called on legislators of all governments to create meaningful laws to govern the nascent technology. Only time will tell what shape those laws will take, if at all.
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