Airport Face Recognition: Enhancing security or crumbling privacy?

By Nazaneen Pahlevani

What if all you needed to travel was your face?[1]  The Federal government is testing facial recognition at American airports with Delta and JetBlue, directly participating.[2]  The whole idea is to get rid of boarding passes, speed up airport security, and increase the certainty of passenger identity. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security sees the system as a way to catch immigrants overstaying their visas and is currently scanning the faces of some passengers on international flights at six airports in an attempt to accomplish this.[3]

There are two major concerns that come with implementing such a procedure: accuracy and privacy.[4]  In a study done earlier this year by Michigan State University, researchers evaluated just how accurate facial recognition technology is, especially when outdated photos are the only photos available for use.[5]  The study concluded that facial recognition is extremely accurate with photos taken in the past six years; however, accuracy begins to drop with photos over six years old.[6]  The accuracy of the facial recognition is problematic considering that passports are valid for ten years if you were sixteen or older when your passport was issued.[7]  Furthermore, many states such as Arizona, allow driver’s license photos to be valid for 12 years and other counties may also have longer timelines for how often their passport holders must update their photos.[8]

Additionally, this system raises significant privacy issues.[9]  Facial recognition can be an invasive form of surveillance since faces cannot be changed or canceled, unlike bank account numbers, or credit cards.  Therefore, if the facial recognition is compiling a database of facial information, it may be more susceptible to outside breaches and misuse.[10] Customs and Border Protection has insisted that it will discard facial recognition photos taken of U.S. citizens at the airport and that it will only keep databases of non-U.S. citizens.[11] However, the susceptibility of misuse of the facial information of immigrant travelers is still high because according to an executive order by the president, the agency has no legal obligation to delete photos of foreign travelers.[12]

Customs’ goal is to deploy facial recognition technology widely across the country by early next year.[13]  That being said, many people have issues with the idea of widespread use of face recognition for tracking and controlling people, arguing that it would be a considerable government infringement on their privacy rights.[14]  Thus, it is likely that the lawsuits are to come.[15]  Stay tuned…

 

[1] Facial recognition could speed up airport security, but at what risk to privacy?, CBS News (June 16, 2017, 12:40 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facial-recognition-technology-instead-of-boarding-passes-airports/.

[2] Airport face scans raise privacy cFace Scans Raise Privacy oncerns, PBS NewsHour (July 15, 2017, 5:12 PM), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/airport-face-scans-raise-privacy-concerns/.

[3] See id.

[4] See Facial recognition could speed up airport security, but at what risk to privacy?, CBS News (June 16, 2017, 12:40 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facial-recognition-technology-instead-of-boarding-passes-airports/.

[5] See LaceyL Best-Rowden & Anil K. Jain, Longitudinal Study of Automatic Face Recognition, IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Mach. Intelligence, Jan. 16, 2017, at , 1, 1.

[6] See id.

[7] See Frequently Asked Questions, U.S. Passport & International Travel, https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/FAQs.html (June 16, 2017 12:40 PM).

[8] See Andrea Hiland, Asked & Answered: Arizona’s looong expiration dLooong Expiration ate on driver’s lDriver’s icenses, azcentral (Apr. 30, 2014 3:14 PM MT), http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/2014/04/30/arizonas-looong-expiration-date-on-drivers-licenses/8533651/.

[9] See Facial recognition could speed up airport security, but at what risk to privacy?, CBS News (June 16, 2017, 12:40 PM), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facial-recognition-technology-instead-of-boarding-passes-airports/.

[10] See Jay Stanley, What’s Wrong With Airport Face Recognition?, ACLU (Aug. 4, 2017, 12:30 PM), https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/whats-wrong-airport-face-recognition.

[11] Id.

[12] See Russell Brandom, Airport face recognition could extend to cFace Recognition Could Extend To itizens, says Customs, The Verge (May 9, 2017, 10:11 AM), https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/9/15591648/airport-facial-recognition-customs-tsa-biometric-exit,. (stating that a President Trump executive order to enhance public safety in the interior of the United States, repealed Privacy Act protections for non-citizens, earlier this year).

[13] Asma Khalid, Facial Recognition May Boost Airport Security But Raises Privacy Worries, NPR (Jun. 26, 2017, 4:03 PM), http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/06/26/534131967/facial-recognition-may-boost-airport-security-but-raises-privacy-worries.

[14] See Jay Stanley, What’s Wrong With Airport Face Recognition?, ACLU (Aug. 4, 2017, 12:30 PM), https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/whats-wrong-airport-face-recognition.

[15] Id.

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