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Facial Recognition Technology in Use for Air Travelers

On your next international trip, you may see facial recognition technology in use.  The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started piloting this technology in late 2018.  Now, in conjunction with various airlines, the use of facial recognition technology is growing and at some airports it is being used  for everything from identifying passengers at gates to full “biometric terminals” where you only need your face to check in, check baggage, traverse security and board the plane.  Even if they see the cameras in use, however, U.S. citizens may opt out because these programs are currently voluntary for them.

Airlines believe that facial recognition technology will make life simpler for passengers who will not have to juggle identification documents along with carry-on bags and other travel accoutrements as they move through the airport.  It will also make boarding airplanes up to 10% faster, not to mention that the use of this technology will be cost effective for the airlines.  One photo taken at the gate will be matched against a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) gallery of photos of others on the same flight.  According to CBP, the system is more accurate than a human can be and works 97% of the time – although some suggest that the accuracy rate is a bit lower than that.  The photos in the “gallery” come only from public sources such as passport and visa photographs and the photos taken at the gate are apparently only stored for 12 to 24 hours.

Raising privacy concerns, the U.S. House of Representatives has questioned TSA and FBI use of facial recognition technology.  At hearings, lawmakers have criticized the FBI for not meeting the standards set by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for testing and auditing privacy protocols and for the  accuracy of the data.  Critics also have concerns about TSA’s standards.  Representative Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) called for TSA to pause its pilot program.  Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) stated:  “American citizens are being placed in jeopardy as a result of a system that is not ready for prime time.”  Despite some expressions of skepticism, there has been no official request to stop the TSA program.

Biometric technology has been used for checking foreign nationals who enter the U.S. for some time.  In a 2017 Executive Order, President Trump sought to expedite the process of completing a biometric entry and exit system including the use of facial recognition technology.

It may still take some time before facial recognition cameras appear at your local airport, but get ready to smile for the camera (if you like)!

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020

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About this Author

Maggie Murphy Attorney, Immigration, Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Office Managing Principal

Maggie Murphy is the Office Managing Principal in the Austin, Texas, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She concentrates her practice on advanced U.S. immigration and nationality law and global business immigration matters, assisting employers with immigration challenges facing international workforces.

Ms. Murphy has extensive experience in all areas of U.S. immigration law, but she primarily focuses her current practice on employment-based immigration for corporate clients and outstanding professors/researchers, as well as...

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