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Airlines are using facial recognition at boarding gates

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations, officers take biometric photos of passengers prior to boarding a flight at Houston International Airport on February 12, 2018. Photographer: Donna Burton
September 07, 2019

Major commercial airlines begin using facial recognition to confirm the identities of its passengers at airports around the country, but some data privacy advocates warn the technology could be an invasion of privacy.

As part of a plan to make airport transportation faster and more secure, Delta and American Airlines are beginning to use facial recognition at select terminals around the country and plan to expand their operations, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

While the technology remains a point of contention to advocacy groups, Delta claims that when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tested facial recognition at other airports, fewer than 2 percent of passengers opted out of using it.

Delta is currently using the technology at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), while American Airlines is using it at three boarding gates at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

The technology is currently opt-in only and passengers still need their passport or ID card and their boarding pass, Business Insider reported.

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Delta, American and JetBlue Airways have all begun using facial recognition in some capacity, according to USA Today.

A coalition of progressive privacy groups advocate against the use of such technology, saying the technology isn’t secure and violates individuals’ personal privacy.

“There is no real oversight for how a private corporation can use our biometric information once they’ve collected it,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, a member of the coalition. “We’ve already seen high-profile data breaches where airport facial recognition databases were hacked and exposed.”

The director of the British-based digit privacy group Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, told the BBC in 2018 the “growth of real time facial recognition in public places is alarming” and the technology “could be the final nail in the coffin for individual privacy and the right to be anonymous in public.”

U.S. CBP tested facial recognition in a 30-day trial last summer at the Houston International Airport, calling it a success.

“Although CBP has a very thorough and robust biographic vetting system, biometrics provides additional assurance and confirmation of identity,” the agency said in a statement.

“Maintaining the privacy and security of customer information is a responsibility Delta takes very seriously,” said Liz Savadelis Delta spokeswoman.

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American Airlines also tested facial recognition at LAX at the end of 2018, saying it will “continue evaluating the program and its potential expansion to more locations and flights throughout its global network.”

Additionally, American Airlines began using the technology at its terminal gates in Dallas Fort Worth.

“No customer biometrics will ever be stored,” American Airlines said, anticipating data privacy concerns.

Delta announced in June that it plans to install the technology at 49 boarding gates at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport.

German airline Lufthansa currently uses the technology at LAX, as well, calling it a “faster and more convenient processes for guests to move through the airport.”