Opinion: Facial scanning introduced in airports

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Facial scanning is beginning to be introduced in airports, for better security measures and to eliminate identity theft. (Skitterphoto/Creative Commons)

Facial scanning is beginning to be introduced in airports, for better security measures and to eliminate identity theft. (Skitterphoto/Creative Commons)

Facial scanning has already been introduced to the public. Recently, it was debuted on the newest iPhone X, so that people could easily unlock their iPhone by bringing the iPhone to their face. Now, however, facial scanning is beginning to be introduced in airports, for better security measures and to eliminate identity theft.

At Orlando International Airport, passengers were lined up to aboard a British Airways flight. The passengers’ surroundings were similar to any other airport departure area, but there were two small gates with cameras next to them.

SITA, a Geneva-based company installed the cameras. The goal of the company is to develop information technology for airlines across the world.

The software works immediately after the passengers step onto the designated footprints. The senior manager of SITA, Sherry Stein, explained the process further, noting that, “We collect a photo, send it to CBP, who checks to make sure that person is booked on the manifest and matches the photo that they already have on file. If everything matches, we open the doors and give them the OK to board.” All that happens, she said, “in three to five seconds.’” This process ensures that that strict and secure measures are implemented before boarding. If information does not match, a gate agent will need to manually scan the traveler’s passport.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is currently testing biometric scanning at many U.S. international airports. This ensures that people don’t leave a country with a false identity. Biometric scanning will also prevent visa overstays.

With biometric scanning, things will be made efficient in airport environments. However, although there are large pros to these automated technologies including reduction of false identities, safer environments for passengers, and safer measures for flights, there do appear to be drawbacks as well.

One of the major problems is bias, according to critic Harrison Rudolph. According to Rudolph, “DHS (Department of Homeland Security) doesn’t seem to know whether its system will falsely reject folks, that is, be unable to match the face scan with photos it has in the system, at higher rates because of their race or gender. That’s a serious problem”.

The facial software needs to be updated to ensure that it can recognize people of all races. In addition, it must be adept at recognizing people who wear scarves, glasses, or hats. The inability of the software to recognize people of various races poses a problem and will lead to the system having many flaws.

Another issue with this technology is privacy. After pictures of travelers are taken at airports, where do these pictures go? They may be stored in the database for extended periods of time, and we wonder whether this can lead to identity theft. DHS can decide to do whatever they want with the information and the photos from the travelers, leading to questions about whether these practices really promote safety.

Lastly, how much time will this process take? Everyone is already familiar with airports. One has to go through security and baggage, which takes more than an hour to complete due to the array of lines in an airport. Having a face scanner added to this may slow the travel process further, leading to restless passengers and added tiredness. As a passenger, one wants the process to be efficient to board the flight as soon as possible. These added implementations slow down the travel process in the long run.

What do passengers think about this implementation? Travelers in Orlando are happy with the process; however, “there was some grumbling by those at the end of the boarding queue”. Regardless, travelers must get ready to acquaint themselves with the technology as it continues to get implemented in more airports.


Anusha Kumar is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anusha.kumar@uconn.edu.

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