Pontifications: Facial recognition coming to an airport near you

By Scott Hamilton. Would you really want this face in facial recognition?

Sept. 4, 2017, © Leeham Co.: Facial recognition for airport operations is becoming a reality.

The new terminal T4 at Singapore’s Changi Airport is completing testing of the system before the terminal is open.

William Bain, an occasional contributor to LNC, recently was at the airport for a preview. He provided us with several photos.

This is the latest step in an emerging trend away from documents in favor of biometrics, scans and other technology.

Scans, Fingerprints

It’s been years since airlines began offering boarding passes via cell phones, scanning a square bar code and eliminating the paper boarding pass.

For some, the convenience of this method eliminates carrying the piece of paper. For others, especially those flying on ultra-low-cost carriers that charge even for printing a boarding pass, this avoids another annoying fee that in aggregate with others begins to add up to real money.

For the airlines, getting away from paper saves money (and it’s good for the environment).

Facial recognition kiosks at Immigration at Singapore Changi Airport. Photo by William Bain.

I must confess, I still like my paper boarding pass. But then, I preferred three- and four-engine airplanes over water until there wasn’t a choice any more.

Fingerprints are becoming more common in operation. The US Global Entry system for Immigration has long used fingerprints as identification for the kiosks upon arrival in the US. Those participating in Global Entry get the fast processing system after first going through a computerized background check, a short interview process and fingerprinting.

Upon entry into the US, you place your fingers on a kiosk scanner, along with your passport in the reader, and you’re processed, get a piece of paper to an agent at the exit and you’re done.

Facial recognition at the gate. William Bain photo.

I resisted joining TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry due to privacy issues (fingerprints, background checks) as a matter of philosophy. But the lines are just so long and clearing processes so cumbersome that I gave up and went with it. I must say I’m glad I did. The time savings and hassle-free go back decades, before you had to undress to get through the magnetometers and airlines were running 60% load factors instead of 85%.

A private company called Clear has a fingerprint check-in, enabling members to bypass the long lines of people who are not members of Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check, going straight to X-ray and Security. As a Global Entry member, I’ve not used Clear but I’ve seen it at Sea-Tac Airport. You place your finger on a scanner and get “cleared” to security.

Facial recognition

Facial recognition is the next step. There is some use in Boston, Amsterdam, Helsinki and Brisbane. Retinal scan is also coming.

I have to say that with my mug, I’m not too keen about facial recognition. But from what the article describes, and William Bain’s preview at the Singapore suggests, this could help speed people through the airports and perhaps help security.

Technology seems to be picking up speed. Some of these used to be elements of science fiction or futuristic movies, or limited to high security processes. Now it’s part of everyday life.

6 Comments on “Pontifications: Facial recognition coming to an airport near you

  1. Interesting that there is a private company running a set up.

    Re ‘retinal scanning’, I assume that would actually be ‘iris scanning’ (former needs a very close camera and is used in optometrists, latter a camera much further away). The UK actually ran iris scanning as an option for several years but stopped using it years ago as, I think, it was deemed less secure than contemporary passports.

  2. What’s next, blood samples at the airport?

    The best security is the one that you don’t see. In the future I think we should be able to move freely without going thru systems like those at Singapore airport.

    Many years ago we had fingerprint readers at baggage drops and again at the boarding gate. These were all dropped. Now we only need to show ID when leaving the EU/Schengen area.

    1. When I buy a ticket, the credit card used is connected to my national id number, including fingerprint, picture, birth certificate etc. They know who I’m, and can run automated background checks even before I reach the airport.

    2. My national id number is connected to my cell phone (mandatory), which track my every movement. All text messages and in/out going calls are stored. Additionally, if I take public transportation to the airport, again I’m identified by scanning my transportation card. If I drive, there are automated toll stations that takes pictures, scans the number plates, reading the electronic vehicle id tag etc. It is not possible to reach the airport by car without driving thru an automated toll station. Both connected to my bank account and national id.

    3. My national id number is also the identifier in the national patient record system. Should I have any psychiatric illness that makes me unfit to fly, it will be listed. All blood and urine samples etc. that I over the years have taken at my doctor is stored in the system. All prescribed medication is also registered. My criminal record (if I had one) is also available and connected to my national id number.

    4. All employment information, any real estate I own etc., any spouse/children/parents etc. information is always available.

    5. And much more…

    Using these information sources, and connecting the information over national boundaries, I can envision a future where security is invisible. Pre 9/11 there wasn’t any security screening on domestic flights in this country. I long for that day…

  3. In Canada we use eye scans in a program called NEXUS, it also connects with Global in the US.

  4. Scott: A few observations and don’t worry, your mug is no worse than mine.

    As I have that clearance by job requirement , you should be aware that the data base was hacked.

    A sister in law got the “letter”. This was from (OPM) They outsourced all the data compilation to another Federal Agency. 22 million individuals.

    Upshot was my brother should have got his and did not.

    Both of us had to ask and our data was in the bleed.

    Add in the NSA and its back door hacks going into the wild (i.e. the infamous ransom ware computer hi jack and data lock) and ……….

    When the government can’t even keep its deepest secrets safe (F-35 data base also hacked)

    And I still prefer 4 engine aircraft going overwater , its just I don’t have a choice now. Two engines or lord don’t bust both.

  5. Facial recognition is used by Australia and NZ for travel between the two countries of their citizens, ( technically there are instant visas for bureaucratic reasons and those with serious convictions are excluded).
    The idea is to expand for more countries and Australians travelling from any country

  6. Just a clarification about Clear: it benefits Global Entry/Pre-Check members as well. It allows users to bypass the TSA ID check entirely, which can involve waiting in a line even with Pre-Check. Once you have scanned your fingerprints and boarding pass at the kiosk, you are escorted past the ID check podium to the relevant screening area, either Pre-Check (metal detector only) or regular (body scanner, shoes off, laptops out, etc.). In fact I would suspect that a high percentage of Clear members, like me, are frequent travelers who already have Pre-Check access through Global Entry or otherwise.

    As an added bonus, Clear also lets you skip the security screening line at various sports venues (e.g., Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in NY).

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