Online Tool Launched to Help Airline Passengers Avoid Facial Recognition

The AirlinePrivacy website informs passengers which airlines use facial recognition technology as part of the verification process during boarding.

A tool has been launched by privacy rights groups to help travellers avoid the ‘invasive’ tech in US airports, amid growing concerns over the use of facial recognition technology.

A host of rights organisations, including Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and CREDO Action, launched the AirlinePrivacy website. The site informs passengers on which airlines use facial recognition technology as part of the verification process during boarding. The website also enables customers to book flights with airlines that do not use facial recognition technology.

Rather than verifying an individual’s identity by scanning a conventional boarding pass, facial recognition technology scans and analyses a persons face, which then verifies both their identity and flight information.

Airports in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are just some of the airports in which facial recognition is being deployed. Similarly, a number of airlines, such as British Airways, American Airlines, Delta and JetBlue, are supportive of the technology roll-out.

JetBlue has led the way in the use of the technology for nearly two years following an agreement with US federal agencies. President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2017, which enabled this increased roll-out at US airports.

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The newly-launched website encourages passengers to use the services of airlines that do not use racial recognition technology. These include Air Canada, United Airlines and Southwest.

Currently, the use of biometrics in US airports is not a specific security requirement. However, privacy groups claim its use represents a violation of privacy and highlights a lack of public awareness on the issue – with many passengers unaware that they can refuse to take part.

The technology is often deployed on an ‘opt-out’ basis, which means passengers are enrolled by default unless they state otherwise. The effectiveness of the technology has previously been called into question and now forms a key talking point in the debate over facial recognition programmes at airports, according to Jelani Drew, campaigner at Fight for the Future.

“This kind of tech has also been proven to be faulty and biased,” Drew said. “JetBlue and all airlines that are using this technology put us in real danger by violating our privacy. Biometric boarding programs have no place in our airports.”

Tihi Hayslett, senior campaigner at Demand Progress, echoed Drew’s comments on the invasive nature of facial recognition technology, raising further questions over the storage and use of passenger data.

“Requiring facial scanning before boarding a flight isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a creepy and alarming invasion of our privacy,” Hayslett insisted.

“These airlines continue to dodge important questions about who, in the airline industry and in the government, will have access to passengers’ biometric data, for how long, and to what ends? This is an appalling attack on privacy and basic rights by JetBlue and we need to stop it now before it becomes the new normal.”



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