Facial Recognition – Just Another Pretty Face

March 19, 2019

I wrote last year about facial recognition technology becoming the future of easier aviation travel in general, and improved aviation security in particular.  These are actually two very separate operational concepts: the former involves using your facial image to move you from the check-in counter to the boarding gate in a smooth transition through the entire airport.  The latter involves using your facial image as one of several components to be certain of your identity and criminal history background, to determine if you can be trusted to work around airplanes and airports protecting all those formers.  Same face, different purposes and processes.

Of course, airlines and law enforcement both have a strong interest in your face, in knowing that the right people are boarding the plane, cleared by the right employees of the airline and the airport.  However, depending on your stance on personal data privacy, you may want to consider just how much personal information you make available.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has recently released 346 pages of material obtained through a Freedom of Information Act filing that this Administration is mandating a program to monitor ”100 percent of all international passengers,” including American citizens, traveling through the top 20 US airports by 2021.  That’s about 100 million of you and your best friends on board 16,300 flights per week on international flights out of the US.

Presumably, the CBP program is all about facilitation, which is an industry buzz word about throughput – getting you through the international border travel process more easily. It involves, among other things, tracking people arriving and departing the US against their passports, visas and other international data base criteria.  

According to privacy advocates, there has been no proper vetting or regulatory safeguards put in place, no critical (and legally required) rulemaking process which requires public feedback, and apparently no consideration of such anomalies as the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) privacy law which addresses use and control of their personal data outside the EU. 

Further, according to EPIC, the documents explicitly state there are no proposed limits on how the airlines can use this data.  You’re gonna need a bigger spam file.