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Many airports adopt face biometrics for easier travel, but some see a blunt security tool

Many airports adopt face biometrics for easier travel, but some see a blunt security tool

Face biometrics are showing steady growth and adoption in the air travel industry, as airports around the world upgrade check-in, pre-check-in and boarding procedures with facial recognition systems, to increase efficiency and improve passenger experience. However, news out of Sri Lanka suggests other, potentially worrying uses for FRT.

TSA’s ‘culture of innovation’ reflected in facial recognition deployments

Looking back on its key achievements of 2023, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) highlighted the continued purchase and deployment of Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines equipped with facial recognition. A press release says the TSA added 457 CAT2 upgrade kits utilizing optional FRT to enable mobile driver’s licenses and biometric credential matching.

Mobile driver’s licenses also featured in a note on partnerships with Apple, the GET Mobile Driver’s license app, Google and Samsung, as well as major airlines, which combined to allow travelers with mobile driver’s licenses from select states (Arizona, Iowa, Utah, Maryland, Colorado, Georgia and California) to access more seamless options. TSA is now accepting mDLs at 25 airports, with the biometric PreCheck Touchless ID live at two more. Through partnerships with major airlines, the TSA is conducting ongoing evaluations of FRT for ID checks and bag drops.

PreCheck reached 18 million members, adding 4 million in 2023. Their ranks were boosted by the addition of Telos as a PreCheck enrollment provider during the past year, joining Idemia.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske says the organization is committed to a culture of innovation to respond to emerging risks and needs. “We have deployed new technology to improve security and the passenger experience,” Pekoske says, “and look forward to continuing the progress this year with our incredible partners across government and industry.”

Airports in Portugal and Jamaica ditch documents for face biometrics

With support from the EU’s NextGenerationEU program, the administrator of Portugal’s airports is bringing facial recognition from Vision-Box to aviation hubs across the country in 2024.

MacauBusiness.com reports that Aeroportos de Portugal (a subsidiary of French transport construction firm Vinci) has already launched facial recognition systems for paperless departure at airports in Lisbon and Porto, and plans to implement the tech at Faro, Madeira and Ponta Delgada airports by the end of 2024.

For the pilots in Lisbon and Porto, passengers flying select TAP Air flights within the Schengen Area of Europe can opt to register through a mobile app available on Android and iOS, or at an airport kiosk. Enrolment involves scanning a boarding pass, ePassport or citizenship card and taking a selfie, which can later be paired with real-time face biometrics at gates and access points.

The primary objective of the implementation as stated is to improve customer experience. But the release from Aeroportos de Portugal also points to increased security provided by facial recognition algorithms that can cross-reference registered data to verify passengers, and to “a total guarantee of confidentiality, since the data is deleted after the flight departs.”

Jamaica is also joining the biometric trend, having installed six new immigration gates enabled with facial recognition technology at its busiest travel hub, Sangster International Airport. A report from Caribbean National Weekly says the deployment comes in tandem with the kickoff of what Jamaica’s tourism industry anticipates being a particularly busy winter season.

Sri Lanka deploys FRT at airports to add to thousands of arrests

Where Portugal and Jamaica’s biometric deployments prioritize customer experience, security is listed as the top priority for Sri Lanka, where an AI-automated facial recognition system has been installed at Bandaranaike International Airport. A report from BNN Breaking says the main goal is to  identify “nefarious activities” such as drug trafficking and ID fraud for international border crossings.

The deployment is part of a controversial crackdown by police and the Ministry of Public Security that has seen more than 25,000 people arrested since December 17, 2023 – a rate of around 833 arrests per day. Human rights advocates may take anxious note of the government’s stated intention to not only enhance airport security “but also to expedite the process of identifying and apprehending suspects.”

Sri Lanka continues to claw its way back from a seismic economic crisis in 2022, which led to the ouster of the government and the election of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has shown little tolerance for public protest.

Concerns about consent in biometric data collection at airports continue to make the news in countries around the globe.

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