How facial recognition technology is transforming travel efficiency and security

May 27, 2024
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Technology is transforming how travelers pass through airports as biometrics, including facial recognition, are becoming more common. Advocates say it will lead to improved security and faster processing times.

“It’s the future because it’s so much more effective than a manual comparison. This is better for security,” TSA administrator David Pekoske told “CBS Mornings.” “It will be better for efficiency.”

Delta and United Airlines are currently testing biometric bag check systems. At United, it checks a person’s face against their passport photo, which that passenger stored in the airline’s app. The airline says the images are not retained.

“The future of travel is definitely biometrics. You know, it is a time saver,” said David Terry, who oversees Los Angeles International Airport for United Airlines. “We want to do everything we can to use technology, to get you from this ticket counter to the gate as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.”

At LAX, flyers have already come face-to-face with the new tech.

“I think it works pretty well,” said Maggie Burdge who used her face to check her bag.

Grant Kretchik also tried out the system to check his bag before a recent flight to New York.

“It’s seamless,” he said, adding that he isn’t worried about facial recognition. “It doesn’t bother me. I guess anything that sort of moves it along.”

Terry explained the system is optional. 

“It’s gonna use facial recognition, be printing your bag tags within 15 to 20 seconds and have you on your way,” he said.

At the checkpoint, both TSA and Clear, an optional service travelers pay to join, offer a growing number of facial recognition lanes aimed at cutting down time spent in line.

“It is becoming ubiquitous. It is additive to the efficiency of the entire checkpoint, and it is clear we’re on the side of the American traveler, and we believe that anything that enhances efficiency is good for everybody,” said Ken Cornic, the co-founder and president of Clear.

International departures are increasingly using biometric technology and facial recognition for boarding and flyers using Global Entry experience facial recognition as part of the expedited customs process coming back to the U.S.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, it has “processed more than 490 million travelers using biometric facial comparison technology and prevented more than 1,900 imposters from entry to the U.S.”

But, not everyone is a fan of facial recognition. A push in Congress to restrict the TSA’s use of biometrics failed earlier this month. There remain questions about how well facial recognition works on people of color and privacy advocates remain concerned.

“The use of that sort of information needs to come with really robust protections,” said Cody Venzke, senior policy counsel with the ACLU. “And that’s really crucial when you’re talking about your facial imprint because unlike a social security number or a telephone number, you can’t get a new face.”

To those who are critical, Pekoske stressed privacy is at the forefront.

“We don’t retain the data that you provide for more than a few seconds. We have no plans to surveil and the technology is not capable of surveillance. So our use case is to verify identity full stop, that’s it.”

On the TSA website, passengers are reminded that while they can opt-in to these programs they do still currently need a physical ID on hand.

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