Seattle airport the latest to trial facial recognition for flight boarding

Lufthansa has boarded nearly 350 passengers onto an Airbus A380, the largest model of passenger airliner in the world, in about 20 minutes using facial recognition at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as part of a pilot project in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), StateScoop reports.

The pilot is being conducted by Lufthansa at one gate for international flights, and is the latest of 13 deployments by CBP to airports in the U.S., with 4 more located outside the country. The pilots have been successful enough at reducing boarding times that Lufthansa will skip the pilot phase for 6 airports where it will launch facial recognition boarding later this year, a company representative told StateScoop. A CBP spokesperson told StateScoop that in scans of about 415,000 passengers during testing, the system has had a match rate of about 99 percent, which includes attempts to match passengers such as military personnel who may not have passports. Data about false positive matches was not provided.

The latest pilot to give passengers the option of using facial recognition instead of a passport for identity confirmation began in mid-June.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said that the use of facial recognition in airports risks setting a precedent for broader public surveillance, and a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy & Technology questioned both the effectiveness and necessity of the biometric exit program, which motivates CBP’s involvement in the pilots. StateScoop also notes that a report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last year suggested that CBP may retain personal information of U.S. citizens longer than necessary, but CBP policy dictates that data collected at airports is held for a maximum of 14 days, and that the duration could soon be reduced through a public rule-making process.

DHS and privacy advocates also disagree on whether Congress has mandated biometric screening of U.S. citizens.

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