As the facial recognition technology developed and evolved through time, airports became one of the places where someone would definitely see a system or two.
In fact, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection already has a database of faces that airlines and other companies operating inside airports can use to match their facial recognition technology with. The database powered by the CBP allows airlines like Delta to board their passengers without having to check their passports and their other tickets. Instead, passengers just have to stand in front of a camera, and if the credentials matched up with the database, they’re already ready to go.
It is clear: facial recognition boarding is an opt-in choice. Or at least it should be. However, Chris Matyszczyk, an award-winning creative director and a prominent tech columnist from ZDNet, exposed that while there are signages around the airport, Delta Airlines does not explicitly say that passengers can opt out of their facial recognition boarding system during the announcement.
“I listened as the gate agent tried to excite passengers about facial recognition boarding. He didn’t mention they could opt out. This is how technology forces itself upon you,” Matyszczyk wrote.
“You see, Minneapolis is one of the airports where the airline is testing facial recognition boarding, and this Delta gate agent was describing it in gushing terms. He said it would make boarding quicker. He said it was brand new and fancy and so very simple. The one part he seemed to omit was that it was optional. You can, of course, still, show the gate agent your passport and your boarding pass. But who wants to perform such an onerous task when you can stand on a circle — be careful you’re positioned correctly — wait for both a green light and an OK from the gate agent, and then take a receipt and board?”
He, however, said that there are markings and signages around the airport that inform passengers that the facial recognition software is optional and there is always an opt-out. But Matyszczyk highlighted that passengers are not reading these signages and it is necessary for the boarding announcement to include informing passengers of their other option aside from the facial recognition.
“Someone somewhere has decided it’s a good idea. So to make everyone use it, the sponsors create the conditions for you to instantly believe it’s the norm,” he added.
When asked for clarification whether or not the person who made the announcement just made a mistake of not including the opt-out in his script, a representative from Delta airline confirmed that telling passengers that there are other options is indeed not part of their script because it becomes “redundant” with the existing signages.
“The script serves as redundancy to signage in place at the gate — when boarding the aircraft, there are signs from both CBP and Delta that explain the optional facial recognition technology process and to see an agent if customers want to use an alternate procedure. The current standard announcement script highlights that the process is optional and explains how to opt-out. When this was initially rolled out, we focused on explaining the new, optional process, but have further clarified how to opt-out as a redundancy to the signage,” Delta Airline’s representative told Matyszczyk.
CBP’s racial recognition database was hacked
The issue of facial recognition in airports has become one of the most talked about matters of national security and privacy as a Homeland Security investigation was launched to look into the previous data breach involving CBP’s database.
The hearing conducted by the Department of Homeland Security this week centers on the recent data breach that compromised images of American and foreign travelers from airports’ facial recognition system. The breach affected Perceptics, a surveillance company contracted by the Customs and Border Protection for their facial recognition technology database.
Emma Best, a journalist whose organization, Distributed Denial of Secrets, has cataloged the exposed data and made it available for public review, described the breach as one of the largest known involving a government contractor. It includes, for instance, hundreds of thousands of emails and documents, passwords, schematics, and equipment lists. “It’s virtually all of the company’s data,” she said.
“It spells out how their surveillance systems and services work, giving more than enough detail to reconstruct it. The cache covers border security and surveillance systems, along with systems for government and private facilities including CBP, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Pentagon,” she said.