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Inching closer to the day when a face is all that is needed at world airports

Inching closer to the day when a face is all that is needed at world airports
 

Biometric verification has taken another small step forward in the United States, with the addition of optional cruise-ship debarkation checks at the Port of San Diego.

At the same time, India is rolling out facial recognition systems designed to increase security and efficiency at several airports.

The nation is not rushing into biometrics for travel — or any other area, for that matter.

In this case, most travelers will be able to have the Customs and Border Protection agency match a live image of themselves against their passport image for biometric verification. Officials claim the process takes two seconds or less, and the algorithm used is 98 percent accurate.

Sixteen U.S. seaports have facial comparison systems, according to the agency. They are set up for those disembarking in the states of Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, California, Washington, Louisiana, Alabama, Maryland and the territory of Puerto Rico.

In fact, the agency claims that, cumulatively, 240 million people have complied with biometric-scan requests at sea- and airports and land crossings.

The caution by the federal government shown in deploying facial recognition systems reflects a deep-seated public distrust of any government program that seeks access to new aspects of citizens’ private information. It may not be the majority of Americans, but it is a vocal segment.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has published a story about both a possible expansion of U.S. airport biometric verification and a review of travelers’ rights when people are faced with a government camera.

Next year, 16 U.S. airports will test biometric systems of their own, these deployed by the Transportation Security Administration. Officials interviewed by the Post say the pilot could become a reality for many more airports nationwide in 2023.

That would be the third year that the TSA has been putting credential authentication technology, or CAT, in domestic airports, according to reporting by the news publisher.

Opponents of biometric surveillance are dissatisfied with the government’s lack of transparency, particularly the rate of false positives and negatives of the airport program.

All current and known planned deployments in U.S. airports are optional — a political and practical consideration. Political because, some people show no signs of tolerating it, and practical, because it delays the moment when opponents can take the question to court.

India, which is much further along with government biometric identification, is following a similar path at airports, including the option not to participate.

According to the Times of India, the government gone live with its Digi Yatra, referred to as DY, paperless travel program for domestic flights leaving the cities of Delhi, Bengaluru and Varanasi.

Facial recognition kiosks have replaced the need among registered travelers for physical ID and airline tickets there. In February, four more cities will be added: Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune and Vijayawada. An unspecified number of additional facilities will be added, but when is not known.

(Trade publication CRN India has reported that Japanese electronics company NEC is providing facial recognition systems for the Varanasi installation. It is not known whose systems are being used in other airports.)

Identification and travel data will only be in a phone’s wallet. The government will not capture personally identifiable information. What information that is collected, according to the Times, will be stored for up to 24 hours on a blockchain.

The story also lists the steps needed for registration and program use at airports.

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