U.S. Border Protection Is Ramping Up Facial Recognition Technology. Are They, And We, Ready For It?

If you read about travel a lot, you’ve most likely heard that in recent months, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) has been rolling out facial recognition technology at various airports. In fact, if you travel a lot, you may have already experienced it.

After an 18 month long “rolling out” period, facial recognition technology was officially implemented at its first airport, JFK, in November 2018. It’s now in use for international departures at multiple large airports such as those in Miami, San Jose, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the goal is for the technology to be in place to scan 97 percent of all outbound international travelers by 2021, despite questions about its legalities and bias.

How it works: Before you board your plane, the airport or airline you’re flying with takes a picture of your face at the gate, and sends the encrypted image to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Traveler Verification Service system, which runs on a cloud server. CBP’s face-matching algorithm confirms that the person in the image is the same one that’s in your passport photo by creating a biometric template based on your photograph. The template is a set of measurements of the size and shape of features, such as your eyes, and the distance between your features, like your nose and upper lip (similar technology, using your fingerprint, is used at Walt Disney World). The system then compares that template to a preloaded gallery of passenger photos that are pulled from government-issued photos such as passports, visas and driver’s licenses.

You can opt out at this time, if you’d like, and they’ll use alternative procedures for identity verification.

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Source: Twitter/Juli Lyskawa

Unfortunately, the system had only had a 75% to 85% success rate in the earlier months of implementation in November 2018. Using similar facial recognition technology, private researchers have discovered that most mistakes have happened with those who have darker skin, and especially with dark-skinned women (up to 35% percent error rate), which has garnered ACLU opposition to the process. Although a spokesperson for CBP says that their successful match rate is now actually 98.6%, they have not shown proof of this.

Which brings up another issue – there are several questions regarding the legality and oversight of a U.S. government agency using facial recognition technology. In fact, according to Buzzfeed, the United States Department of Homeland Security is rushing to get systems up and running at airports across the country without proper vetting and regulatory safeguards.  That includes the facts that there’s no transparency in the system, and no limits have been set regarding how airlines and airports can use this facial recognition data. Plus, the program might be going beyond the authority granted to the Department of Homeland Security (CBP falls under its umbrella) by Congress because Congress has never explicitly authorized biometric collections from Americans at the border (the government is authorized to get biometric information from visitors, but not its citizens).

And how does the public feel about this? Well, it seems to depend on the person. Some people have no issues with it. Other people seem to have very strong opinions on the matter.

What do you think about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection using facial recognition for international flights at this time?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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