Face The Music
Will Facial Recognition take flight?

June 15, 2016

By year's end, airport security will be tracking you at most major airports in the US and around the world.

Airports already have this technology in place, they just didn't tell anyone. 

ile FlyersRights has voiced concern over beacons and surveillance cameras tracking you in airports, we haven't written about facial recognition and biometrics.
Last year, US Customs and 
Homeland Security (DHS) department quietly launched a 
facial recognition program to detect so-called "immigration violators" at points of entry airports.

As part of the program, customs officers randomly selected Americans coming back from abroad and took a picture of them. Passengers that were chosen as guinea pigs could not opt out, according to the US Customs and Border Protection's  Privacy Impact Assessment

As they passed through customs at one of the pilot program airports, Dulles, about 250 people per day had their photos taken and stored in a database.

Tracking you from the minute you arrive at the airport until you leave at your destination. (Vision-Box SA)

Storing Passenger Biometrics

Facial recognition systems have two components: an algorithm and a database. The algorithm is a computer program that takes an image of a face and reconstructs it into a series of landmarks and proportional patterns - the distance between eye centers, for example.  

This technology detects and tracks you from the minute you arrive at the airport until you're out of the arrival hall at your destination.

"Face-prints" are collected into databases and a computer program compares images or pieces of footage with the database for matches. Proponents boast a match accuracy rate of 98.75 per cent. Facebook recently achieved 97.25 per cent accuracy after acquiring biometrics company Face.com in 2012.  
Shorter Queues? But Be Careful What You Wish For

Is this the answer to long TSA lines?

Advocates say this technology allows recognized and identified individuals to get through security and passport control automatically.

For weeks we've been reporting on the e
ndless security lines at airports around the country, with infuriated passengers waiting as long as three hours or more.

But not everyone is happy about facial recognition being the solution. 
Civil rights activists are concerned that the program is an invasion of privacy that will create a database of innocent Americans. 

Officials counter that this technology helps ensure the person checking-in is the person getting onto the plane, and it also compares passengers against terrorist databases. 

Potential For Abuse

At the moment, it's unclear how the images and data are handled, stored, or shared. 

DHS claims the technology isn't creating new invasions into privacy, but merely helping them do what they already do - confirm your identity and your travel documents at border crossings. 

Nonetheless, the information is valuable to hackers targeting political figures', diplomats' and celebrities' whereabouts. These concerns have not yet outweighed the advantages of seamless security that facial recognition can provide.  
Still, this is an intrusive technology with no judicial oversight, transparency or due process. 

Allure To Monetize The Data

Another issue: can these contractors supplying biometric technology be relied upon to self-regulate, despite the temptation to monetize the data?  
The technology sounds beneficial and convenient. Walk up to the international check-in at, say, Charles de Gaulle Airport, gaze up at a camera and walk into the country without ever needing to pull out a passport - your image is on file, the camera knows who you are. 

The concern is not as much airport programs, but is it a move towards a larger program involving all public places and mass transit in the United States? We have no idea how this information may be used or misused in the future. 

Unless we maintain a public right to privacy, what will stop large companies from accumulating all sorts of data? This is the tide of technology.
As recognition software evolves, we can expect to see enhancements that track a person's gait, perform long-range iris scanning, and advanced facial modeling and recognition. Biometric IDs may someday become the only form of identification we need.

When you find yourself denied a job or a loan and never find out why, maybe ask yourself if it's because at some time you showed up in a databank identifying you as "at risk".

Technology is always a two edge sword.

Every advance in weaponry inspires more advances in p rotective or defensive measures, and technology -o nce employed for one purpose - will inevitably be copied a nd used for other purposes.

In aviation, anti-sabotage and anti hijacking measures h ave grown from X-ray and metal detectors to  explosive detection, hard to counterfeit picture IDs, watch and N o-Fly lists. Drones developed to spy on and k ill terrorists, are now widely dispersed in the US and may s oon be used by terrorists against us.

What is to prevent facial recognition from being u sed by law enforcement to apprehend wanted persons or traffic offenders, b y debt and tax collectors and by private detectives?

The freedom to travel by air has been a boon opening the world to hundreds of m illions in the 20th century. But a major challenge of the 21st century is h ow to maintain this freedom without creating a police state or destroying any semblance of personal privacy. 

Paul Hudson

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