PHL acquires facial recognition scanners


Starting Tuesday, travelers boarding select international flights at Philadelphia International Airport will have their face scanned along with their boarding pass.

Three airport gates will begin a 45-day pilot program for facial recognition scanners that cross-reference a live image of a person with government photos. The scanners are intended to help U.S. customs and border protection process passengers and expedite boarding, the airport said.

Gates A15, A16 and A17 will each use a different biometric technology scanner for certain outgoing international flights on Qatar, British Airways, Lufthansa and American Airlines. Once the pilot program is completed, the airport will assess which brand performs best for permanent use.

CBP will also install the system for travelers entering the country via Philadelphia. There is no timeline for this installation yet, but it will take place at the Federal Inspection Station at Terminal A-West.

All travelers will be scanned unless they request not to be scanned. But although foreign nationals are required to undergo additional screening, they can opt out of scans for outbound flights and be checked through other documents, said Stephen Sapp, spokesperson for CBP.

“It is designed to speed up boarding by eliminating the time it takes for gate attendants to manually verify the identity of the traveler,” Sapp said. Passengers will still need to present their boarding passes and passports during the pilot program, but over time technology is expected to replace this paper check-in process.

The facility is part of a federal mandate and part of a more than ten-year congressional effort to track foreign travelers entering and leaving the country. As the Washington Post reported, Congress in 2016 approved the use of up to $ 1 billion from visa fees to fund the implementation of the technology. A March 2017 executive order ordered the US Department of Homeland Security to speed up implementation.

Currently, 26 airports use biometric scans for people leaving the United States, 16 use it for people entering the country, and six seaports use it for both entry and exit. Government officials say the technology provides additional security and has identified seven people traveling with another person’s documents since September 2018.

But privacy advocates fear bias, inaccuracy and the potential for misuse of the information collected.

“Automating the onboarding process makes sense from an efficiency and economy perspective,” said Michael Kearns, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in machine learning, algorithms and their biases. . “But it also means that a lot more data about us will be recorded.”

“It also brings us more and more towards a surveillance society,” he said.

Biometric technology, or technology that uses your physiological characteristics, such as fingerprints and face scanners in iPhones, is not new to society or to airports. British Airways has been using the technology at London’s Heathrow Airport for almost nine years.

When passengers board, a tablet mounted on the gate kiosk scans their face and compares it to a database filled with passport or visa photos. If the images match, the machine authorizes the passenger to board. If there is a mismatch, the screen flashes and the person can be dismissed for further screening.

After identities are verified, images of U.S. travelers are removed within 12 hours, CBP said. Photos of foreign travelers are deleted from the comparison database within 14 days, but may then be kept in the Department of Homeland Security’s automated biometric identification system, according to CBP.

Inaccuracy and security are also an issue.

Kearns said traditional machine learning is inherently biased. Over time, certain minority groups may experience boarding delays or be more often dismissed by accompanying persons.

“The question is not whether he will make mistakes, what he will do,” he said. “But how could these errors be unevenly distributed across demographics? “


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