Recently I traveled internationally through American Airlines. As I went to board the plane, I had my passport and boarding ticket ready to scan to board, As I approached the front of the line, I realized I didn’t need my passport or ticket anymore. There was a screen that took my photo. After my photo was taken, my passport photo popped up on the screen along with my assigned seat number and I was set to enter the aircraft. Our photos that are taken of us are compared against photos in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection database that is shared with the airlines.
There was an announcement prior to boarding that your photo taken on site will only be stored for 12 hours. I am someone who doesn’t mind sharing my data (I, e Netflix, apple, google etc.) but this felt rather creepy. Maybe because I haven’t traveled internationally since pre- pandemic times, and I am not used to this technology being use. I keep thinking to myself when did I consent with CBP to allow my photo to be shared with the airlines?
What are your thoughts of your biometrics being used for a safer and easier boarding process?
Read More/ Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/07/travel/biometrics-airports-security.html
Greg Ebbecke says
Really interesting. I hadn’t heard about this and imagine it’s only a matter of time before they can do the same via your driver’s license for domestic flights.
I’m sure the logic is something along the lines of “in a public place, you have no expectation of privacy” which applies to where the picture was taken but not necessarily how it was used.
Is this any different than a company running a CCTV security solution on their property and then saving the recordings for a fixed period of time? Is the act of being recorded that’s unsettling, or the fact it can be so seamlessly associated with your travel records?
Demi Li says
This is kind of wild technology, I’m kind of impressed we’ve gotten this far but I agree it’s a little concerning when it comes to privacy. I think this type of system could also lead to a lot of benefits concerning criminal activity though! I don’t know how often people fly to escape the country or state but I imagine this sort of imaging system would easily catch them.
The weirdest thing to me is the fact that this technology was just implemented without any news on it (or maybe there is, I don’t really read airline news that often.) It can be argued it’s an invasion of your privacy or not- but the fact is that this would definitely make a lot of people uncomfortable, so it seems like a strange business move to just implement this out of nowhere.
Abby Merola says
Wow this was so interesting to read. I think I would be a little creeped out as well if they told me that they were gonna store a photo of me for up to 12 hours. I feel like if you have ur passport and ID what else do they need to use to identify you. I would not like this at all especially already boarding the plane, where you can’t really do anything about it at that point. I am curious to see if this is something that is going to stick around. I also have not flown since the pandemic so maybe things have changed. SO crazy!!!!
Krupa Bhatt says
Definitely raises questions about how much privacy are we letting go of for convenience. Ex-president Donald Trump signed an executive order back in 2017 that gave permission for the busiest U.S. airports to run facial recognition on passengers traveling internationally. to speed up boarding and customs processes and to advance the safety and security of air travel. I was interested in learning of what other information they collected besides passport photos, turns out there is no other data being captured or stored. However, this is just the beginning, we didn’t have a say in our passport photos being used for biometric comparison who knows if in the future they started storing this data for convenience?
Regina Olkowski says
Interesting post, Morgan! Do you remember if this was called CLEAR? I recently travelled to Dallas / Fort Worth for work, and I noticed a ton of signs at their airport for CLEAR. Not knowing what it was, one of my stakeholders mentioned it in our meeting and explained that it’s a game changer to get through the airport in a timely manner. I know we talked about this in class last night, but I think it comes down to privacy vs. time. For me, I’m (happy-ish) to sacrifice privacy, especially if I’m traveling with my kids. When my husband and I took the kids on a family trip to Turks and Caicos last year, someone recommended downloading the “Verifly” app. Skeptical, yes, to plug in my families Passport information into this random app; however, in practice, it truly was a game changer. Traveling internationally during COVID, or traveling any time with kids :), can be challenging with the slew of paperwork involved, pre-approvals required for entry and dynamic restrictions. The app allows you to enter your passport info, COVID documentation including test results, into the app directly to allow for a seamless, and paperless, experience at the airport. Perhaps my feelings would change if I was traveling independently, but it was certainly my saving grace when I needed it the most.
Samara Grossel says
That’s a pretty crazy concept–I haven’t heard of this before! I flew internationally over the summer and still used the traditional boarding pass method. Like you, I have accepted that most of my data is being used to track me, but this does seem a little unnerving to me. Even though they say the photos are only available for 12 hours, part of me wonders if this is actually true. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to store customer photos if they use the same airline and boarding process in the future?
While individuals can choose whether or not to opt into this feature, I could see it being annoying if half of the people boarding the plane are waiting to get their ticket scanned the “old-fashioned” (aka current) way and the other half are using this facial recognition. It seems to me like this might start to take over for convenience reasons like Regina said. I could see why families traveling with small kids would want to use this, but I for one am still getting used to the idea.
Andrea Mowers says
This is the first I am hearing about this, but after binging the first two seasons of Blacklist on Netflix while I was sick with COVID recently, I can see how this could be really useful in the future to crack down on fake passports or anything. **Spoiler Alert**
The main character in Blacklist found her husbands three fake passports beneath her hardwood flooring. If the facial recognition technology at airports gets better, I would hope it would be able to identify any photo that is linked to more than one passport and flag it from there. Facial recognition technology is in its early years and has come under fire for being racially bias, so there is a lot of room for improvement for this technology, but I see it being a benefit.
I can’t even begin to think how many ring cameras have picked up my face as I walk by apartments by now. Living in DC and not far from the Capitol, surveillance is almost constant. At least this airport technology is making it easier on customers and airline staff.
Gabby Gutierrez says
I’m in the same mindset of feeling uncomfortable that suddenly your identity was stored and used without your knowledge. The fact that you only were aware of this feature while you were at the gate, seem a bit suspicious than the airline simply disclosing this new protocol to their customers prior to the flight date. What would have happened if the system glitched and did not capture you when you entered the facility? Or in the case what happened in Disney land with the wrist bands. What happens if the system fails to scan you properly or even mistook you for someone else? As someone who has been in a situation where TSA has pulled me or someone I know from a line thinking we were someone else is a bit terrifying.
Customers may resist with having prior knowledge of the new feature before seeing it in use, however, there should be transparency to inform customers of new procedures in case of a system error.
Alexis Whyte says
Hey Morgan! Great read.
I have some experience with biometrics in airports but in place of a passport when boarding. In 2015, I was in London and their smaller airports (Gatwick and Stansted) used biometrics by scanning your eyes before you were allowed to enter or leave the terminal area. This was my first experience with it, and while it was definitely a shock, I believe they only use it in that moment to compare against a database before allowing you into the terminal area or into London. While it feels like an invasion of privacy, it is likely these terms come with using these airports or airlines. However, I do think these terms should be more transparent and passengers should know about this beforehand. I think language is important here (and I’m going solely off of your post as I don’t have a NYT subscription), but saying that a photo will only be stored for 12 hours doesn’t necessarily mean it will be permanently deleted after. These privacy concerns should be very clear to passengers throughout the booking process and upon arrival to the airport. Great post!
Samantha Sylvain says
Interesting post Morgan! I wasn’t aware that they did this but it is now making sense. I recently traveled with American Airlines as well and I was wondering why they didn’t take my passport. They scanned my face and looked to see if the pictures matched and told me to go through. I thought this was a weird experience. However, my assumption was that they had my passport on file already because I am an avid traveler,, especially with American airlines. I don’t know how I feel about this new technology in airports. Do they not need to ask us for permission to be able to store these photos and information in their system? I don’t remember being asked permission for this.
Now that I have done it and see the use of it, I would most likely accept it. However, it would of been nice to be informed and learn more about it first.
Ryan Hartman says
Wow didn’t realize they did this! I recently flew American Airlines internationally but didn’t have the same experience. From a national security standpoint, I understand this new system. When it comes to keeping our boarders safe, there isn’t too much I would say that is “taking it too far.” Asking for permission or consent, defeats the purpose of national security if criminals trying to escape the country don’t give consent.
Kate Levy says
This is super interesting — I’m going to be traveling abroad next month and if I hadn’t read your post, I don’t think I would have been prepared for having my picture taken at the air port! Although privacy is definitely a concern, I wonder if this way is more secure. Instead of relying on a human to identify us by comparing our faces to our photos, I wonder if the machine is more accurate.
It’s interesting to think about the other ways we’ll see biometrics be used in the future. By now, we are all used to scanning our faces to unlock our phones. I can also guess that people are using biometrics to unlock their houses. I bet that we’ll start using it to get into our offices or cars in the future if it’s not already a thing!
Hilary Myers says
I had no idea they implemented this! It definitely feels a little invasive, but I can understand it from a security point of view. (as much as it makes me uncomfortable with my info being stored) I agree with Kate, it’s fascinating to think about how biometrics will be used more frequently in the future. I don’t really think about it anymore when I unlock my phone, but from a security standpoint, it’s a genius innovation. It streamlines the process and allows for contactless verification with 99.5% accuracy. For international travel, it will be revolutionary.
Sara Valko says
So interesting, I didn’t know this was a thing. I do remember traveling internationally pre-covid and using Clear to help get through CBP and that required my picture to be taken to ease the process, but I had consented (and paid) to that. I think it’s so crazy, all the new technologies that are coming out using AI to improve certain processes. Sometimes, I even think it’s overkill, like I didn’t see anything wrong with the way CBP was operating beforehand. I do have to agree with you that it is a little weird that they are just using your picture with no prior agreement, but who knows maybe it was in the fine print no one ever reads!
Montrease Cottle says
I have mixed feelings about this kind of technology. I always think of the movie “iRobot” where the robots created to help humans ended up becoming sentient beings that wanted to be free and not in service to humans. Any technology can get buggy and be used against use. Which brings me back to my point, how are BCP making sure the photo stored are safe and only used for verifying your identity when you’re present? It feels like a violation, even from the beginning, no one issued a warning before or explained the new process. I understand staff is probably too busy for that kind of interaction, but the airline could’ve sent a “pre-flight” email giving a rundown.
I think the technology can be great for minimizing security risks, but the privacy risks for sure need to be addressed.
Brianna Clyburn says
Hi Morgan, this is super interesting and admittedly a bit frightening. I think this opens a whole can of worms that could really backfire if put in the wrong hands. Who’s to say this type of technology won’t be implemented elsewhere? As someone who is a little more reserved with their data (I refuse to use face ID to unlock my phone) it feels a bit like I’m being forced to give away information, or in this case my likeness, with no real say in the matter or who will be allowed to use it. I understand it’s an issue of security but I would think it opens the door for other issues like profiling and bias (as we all know technology isn’t always the most accurate tool) as well. I think if this type of technology is going to be implemented then there needs to be heavy and thorough regulations regarding its use.