What at first seemed like creeping tip-toe incrementalism toward the use of biometric ID for travel is quickly becoming a warp-speed reality.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been covering some disturbing developments at national airports that seem to show an acceleration of the plan to use biometric identification in a variety of ways.
On May 19th I reported on a new program initiated by Delta Airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to have automated baggage kiosks for “priority customers” that will first scan a traveler’s passport, then their face in order to match identity to checked luggage. It was promoted as a “pilot program” that Delta launched to seek customer feedback in the hope that it could be rolled out more widely in the future.
This announcement was followed by JetBlue who stated they will “test facial- and fingerprint-recognition technology at two U.S. airports to replace boarding passes, building on industry efforts to increase security and ease passage through airports.”
However, these stories were nothing compared to what followed on June 20th when U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that they would integrate government databases with a private company to speed up biometric processing.
JetBlue is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and SITA, an information-technology provider for airlines.
“This is the first integration of biometric authorization by the CBP with an airline and may prove to be a solution that will be quick and easy to roll out across U.S. airports,” Jim Peters, SITA’s chief technology officer, said in the statement. (emphasis added)
It’s a plan that has been in the making for 15 years, but is just now coming to fruition.
In the article “CBP will implement long-mandated biometric exit at airports, official says” we discover the hurdles that needed to be overcome and why we most likely are witnessing intensified media coverage at this moment:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is finally addressing the 15-year-old-plus legislative mandate to check the identity of departing foreign visitors using biometrics, CBP Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner said Thursday.
Wagner said the goal would be accomplished by making use of existing data collection, the latest facial recognition technology and cloud computing. He acknowledged there would be privacy issues – particularly because the facial recognition technology would capture images of U.S. citizens as part of the overall process.
“We’re out of time, we’re out of excuses,” Wagner said.
With that as the backdrop, if one weren’t already alarmed by this trend, DHS is now laying out a clear plan for mandatory face scans for all travelers to foreign destinations, stating that “the only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling.” That’s right, no opt-out, just stay home.
The full 18-page DHS document is posted below and is also available at the bottom of this page at TechDirt.
Naturally, DHS is giving assurances that scans of U.S. citizens won’t be retained, but reading through the following doublespeak should render that notion laughable:
John Wagner, the Customs deputy executive assistant commissioner in charge of the program, confirmed in an interview that U.S. citizens departing on international flights will submit to face scans.
Wagner says the agency has no plans to retain the biometric data of U.S. citizens and will delete all scans of them within 14 days.
However, [Wagner] doesn’t rule out CBP keeping them in the future after going “through the appropriate privacy reviews and approvals.”
This should only be viewed as the next stage of incrementalism before biometric ID will be required for domestic travel as well. And, as we have seen with the TSA, airports may not be the final destination.
People are being transformed into digital organisms made easier for scanning and processing. The political will is there, the databases exist, and the technology is clearly being rolled out across every meaningful area of human activity.