Rapid Increase in Biometric Data in Airports Raises Privacy Concerns
In 2018, Delta paved the way in airport terminal development, by introducing the first biometric terminal at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport where passengers can use facial recognition technology from curb to gate. Delta now offers members of its Sky Club airport lounges to enter using fingerprints rather than a membership card or boarding pass. Other airlines use biometric data to verify travelers during the boarding process with a photo-capture. The photograph is then matched through biometric facial recognition technology to photos that were previously taken of the passengers for their passports, visas, or other government documentation.
Though the use of a fingerprint or facial scan aims to streamline and expedite the travel process and strengthen the security of air travel, it also presents heightened security risks for biometric data on a larger sale. As the use of biometric data increases, the more expansive the effects of the data breach becomes. While it’s possible to change a financial account number, a driver’s license number or even your social security number, you can’t change your fingerprint or your face, easily anyway. Furthermore, in the past, facial recognition software had not been able to accurately identify people of color, raising concerns that individuals may be racially profiled.
Yet, many argue that biometric-based technologies can be used to help solve vexing security and logistics challenges concerning travel. For example, in 2016, Congress authorized up to $1 billion collected from certain visa fees to fund implementation of biometric-based exit technology. That was followed by President Trump’s executive order signed in March 2017 directing the Department of Homeland Security to expedite implementation of biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States. As it stands, we are likely to see a rapid expansion of biometric technology used by airlines and other businesses in the travel industry, so prepare your picture-perfect travel face!
Notably, the use of biometric data is growing across all industries and in a variety of different applications – e.g., premises security, time management, systems access management. But, so is the number of state laws intending to protect that data. States such as Illinois, Texas, and Washington are leading the way with others sure to follow. Regulations include notice and consent requirements, mandates to safeguard biometric information, and obligations notify individuals in the event biometric information is breached. And, litigation is increasing. The Illinois Supreme Court recently handed down a significant decision, for example, concerning the ability of individuals to bring suit under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). In short, individuals need not allege actual injury or adverse effect, beyond a violation of his/her rights under BIPA. The decision is likely to increase the already significant number of suits, including putative class actions, filed under the BIPA.
Companies, regardless of industry, should be reevaluating their biometric use practices and taking steps to comply with a growing body of law surrounding this sensitive information.