Face scanners arrive at PHL airport next week


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Soon, Philadelphia International Airport will scan your face before boarding a plane.

In partnership with the US Customs and Border Patrol, the airport begins to deploy biometric screening, that is, facial recognition technology. Starting next week, PHL will fly three different face scanners at three international gates on select outbound flights, becoming one of 27 U.S. airports to use the technology.

“Working with our CBP partners and our airlines will ensure our continued commitment to safety and security,” PHL Airport CEO Chellie Cameron said in a statement.

The effort follows a Department of Homeland Security mandate to use facial recognition to identify all non-citizens traveling at U.S. airports. In December, the government withdrew an attempt to make it mandatory for citizens as well, after outcry over privacy concerns.

That doesn’t stop airports from adopting the technology – you’ll just be allowed to opt out.

From Tuesday January 21, iPad-type face scanners will be used for select flights on Qatar Airways, British Airways, Lufthansa and American Airlines departing from gates A15, A16 and A17 at the international terminal.

During the trial, airport and government agency staff will assess which biometric scanning system worked best, a process expected to last until May.

“We believe that the implementation of biometric exit technology will streamline and improve the on-boarding process,” PHL spokesperson Heather Redfern told Billy Penn.

A full deployment of biometric screening is expected within a year, the airport said.

While questions about privacy and personal security abound, here are some basics to know about the impending face scanners coming to PHL.

Biometric technology companies veriScan, NEC and SITA will use tablets displayed at test gates that will capture your image. While the airport sets up photo kiosks for international flight departures, CBP will set them up to scan travelers entering the country.

Photos captured at the boarding gate will automatically be matched against flight listings using CBP’s Traveler Verification Service, a federal government database of our faces.

How do photos get into the database to get started? These could be images taken during customs inspections at entry, from U.S. passports, visas and other travel documents, or photos taken at previous DHS meetings, according to the website of the CBP.

“If the face matches, the machine will release the passenger,” PHL Airport said in a statement.

The airport also promises that CBP will remove images of U.S. citizens within 12 hours of confirming your identity. Photos of non-U.S. Citizens will be stored for up to 14 days and can be placed in a DHS biometric system, Redfern said.

On its website, the biometrics company veriScan boasts a 98.5% success rate with more than 1.1 million passengers scanned on 8,223 flights from 41 airlines.

The system is different from the eye and fingertip scanning systems operated by a tech company called CLEAR. This system has not been adopted at most American Airlines hub airports, such as PHL. The airline told a travel blogger that the company was leaning towards facial scanning technology instead.

“Our view is that the best way to speed up the screening process is to invest in new technologies, such as CT scans, and to focus on enrolling more passengers for TSA PreCheck.” , said an AA spokesperson.

Facial recognition technology at airports is touted for a bunch of different reasons.

NEC, one of three systems operated by PHL, says its technology helps speed check-in and “effortlessly identifies and admits VIP travelers,” which… obviously good.

The SITA biometrics network also says its services will help airports manage the looming travel boom, which is expected to double to 7.8 billion by 2036 according to industry forecasts.

Then there is the obvious: border control. Biometric tracking of foreign immigrants entering and exiting the United States has been required by law since 2004, but throughout the Obama administration, information collected was limited to fingerprints and photos.

Under the Trump administration, efforts have intensified. Since it began rolling out its facial recognition program at airports in 2017, CPB has said it has apprehended seven “imposters”, traveling masquerading as someone else.

Currently, submission of facial recognition for outbound international flights is optional for both US and non-US citizens. When you enter the country, you will need to use the technology that CPB is using at the time.

The biometrics pilot program at Philly International will include the installation of new digital notification signage, in English and Hindi, to alert passengers to waiting face scans as they approach their doors.

From there, people will have to choose to opt out. You can do this by notifying a nearby CBP agent or an airline or airport employee. Your travel information will then be verified using another method.

Privacy-conscious traveler rated for tech release Wired that it was difficult to opt out of the process. The writer was traveling to Detroit and said they had to step out of the boarding lane to speak to an airline representative, only to be told to join the line and request a passport scan instead of a facial.

PHL spokesperson Redfern described it this way:

“Travelers who do not wish to participate in this facial comparison process can notify an airline representative to look for another way to verify their identity and documents. “


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