Facial Recognition at Airports? Washington Dulles Unveils Big Brother System To Speed Up Boarding And Security Checks

Monday, 10 September 2018 - 2:06PM
Dystopias
Military Tech
Monday, 10 September 2018 - 2:06PM
Facial Recognition at Airports? Washington Dulles Unveils Big Brother System To Speed Up Boarding And Security Checks
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If there's one thing society can agree on, it's that going through airport security and waiting to board a plane sucks. From arriving at the airport hours in advance to emptying your pockets and partially disrobing in public, there is nothing fun (besides maybe Cinnabon) about the experience – but sometimes it's the only way to travel. A solution that could expedite the process would be a welcome change, and that's exactly what Washington Dulles Airport unexpectedly gave passengers moving through the nation's capital. According to reports, the airport unveiled two new facial recognition systems this past Thursday: one to meet legal requirements, and the other to help move the lines faster for international flights.

Developed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (UCBP), the new system is set up at the boarding gate. Passengers stand in front of a screen to have their photo taken before taking their seat on the plane. The photo is then compared to one on file from the passenger's passport or from when they entered the country to ensure that they are who they say they are. Employees at the airport tell The Hill that they no longer need to check boarding passes and ID because the system handles it. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that the scans are 99% accurate and take less than a second. After the photos are taken, they are stored for 12 hours before being permanently deleted.

"The technology works," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters when the system was unveiled. "It's fast, it's user-friendly, it's flexible and it's cost-effective. And we believe it will change the face of international travel...no more fumbling with your boarding pass when you have two carry-ons, maybe a kid, no more trying to find a QR code or trying the refresh your screen." Prior to the official unveiling, Phys.org reports that airport officials used the system to stop a man from entering the United States from Brazil with a French passport. His facial scan was not a biometric match to the information on file, and while he was being detained they found his Republic of Congo ID card hidden in his shoe.

Despite that reported proof of success, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is not 100% on board with the introduction of this technology at Washington Dulles or the 13 other "early-adopter" airports. The organization recently tested facial recognition software using images of members of Congress and came up with 28 matches to criminal mugshots. (No comment there.) ACLU policy analyst Jay Stanley warned that normalizing the technology at checkpoints could result in "mission creep," which is often associated with military operations and is defined as "the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization."

With that in mind... Even if it means less time waiting in lines, are you okay with the airport taking your picture and keeping it for 12 hours?

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