How face recognition is taking over airports
2019-10-09 05:57

(CNN) — Instead of scanning her boarding pass, the airport gate scanned her face.


In April 2019, traveler MacKenzie Fegan was left surprised and confused when she boarded a JetBlue flight from the United States to Mexico, without handing over her passport, or travel documents.

2019年4月,旅行者MacKenzie Fegan登上从美国飞往墨西哥的捷蓝航班上而没有交出护照或旅行证件时,感到惊讶和困惑。

"There were plastic barricades across the front of each lane, I look to my right, and the gate opens," she tells CNN Travel. "I was like, 'What, just happened?' There was no boarding pass scan, nothing like that."

她告诉CNN Travel: “每条车道的前部都有塑料路障,我向右看,大门打开了。” “我当时想,'发生什么事了?'没有登机牌扫描,完全没有。”

Before she'd even sat down on her airplane seat, Fegan, a New York-based journalist, fired off a Tweet to JetBlue, asking the airline to explain the process.


"Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?" She wrote, clicking send.

“在我不知道的情况下,面部识别代替了登机牌吗?我同意吗?” 她写道 ,单击发送。

About 10 minutes later, Fegan received a reply:


"You're able to opt out of this procedure, MacKenzie. Sorry if this made you feel uncomfortable," read the response.


Implicit in the Tweet was the answer that, yes, on some JetBlue flights, facial recognition and biometric technology is used -- seemingly to speed up boarding, and sift out security threats.


Fegan's initial Tweet received over 8,500 likes, sparking a thread where passengers voiced privacy concerns and debated the pros and cons of a technology that's becoming omnipresent in airports across the world.


"We are increasingly moving towards this type of automation -- personal data and biometric data being available to companies and to corporations," says Fegan.


"I had a lot of questions, I think everybody should have a lot of questions."


Biometrics explained



British Airways has been self-boarding passengers at Heathrow for some time.


Courtesy British Airways


Biometric technology describes tech that uses your physiological characteristics -- think, the iPhone thumbprint that lets you use Apple Pay or unlock your phone without a password.

生物识别技术描述了利用您的生理特征的技术-想一想,iPhone指纹可以让您使用Apple Pay或无需密码即可解锁手机。

Other examples include iris recognition, fingerprints and facial recognition.


These all seem to have become ubiquitous in recent years, but the technology's not new. It's not even new to airports.


Raoul Cooper, British Airways' senior digital design manager, tells CNN Travel that BA -- alongside other airlines flying domestically to and from London's Heathrow Airport -- has been using facial recognition on domestic travelers for about eight or nine years.

英国航空的高级数字设计经理Raoul Cooper告诉CNN Travel,广管局以及其他国内往返伦敦希思罗机场的航空公司已经在国内旅行者身上使用了面部识别技术大约八到九年。

At Terminal 5 and Terminal 2, international travelers and domestic travelers mix in the common departure lounge.


"We do have to, as a result of that, separate our customers in some way -- so that you don't have international travelers getting on to a domestic flight, especially if they're in transit -- they could, in effect, jump the border," explains Cooper.


"So we have to put the right use of technology in and around there to stop that from happening."


Cooper lays out how facial technology works for BA customers at Heathrow. When a customer arrives at the airport and goes through the first security checkpoint, their facial image is "grabbed."


"We grab your face, and we associate it to your boarding pass," he explains.


"[The camera] is looking at the face and taking a number of measurements and building out what we call a biometric template. And that is kind of like the algorithmic side or the mathematical representation of your face, and that allows us to run algorithms on it."

“ [摄像机]看着脸部并进行了许多测量,并建立了我们所谓的生物特征模板。这有点像算法方面或您脸部的数学表示,这使我们可以运行算法在上面。”

When passengers board their domestic flight, another camera will take a snapshot of their face, and then sync up the picture it takes of them as they board, with the earlier shot from when they arrived at the airport.


"If the two match within the right sort of realms of accuracy, we say great -- that does correlate and it correlates with the boarding pass, and so the customer can pass through."


If there's a "hiccup" with the system, as Cooper puts it, BA staff will go through the secondary process -- checking documents, calling over an agent if necessary.



Facial recognition is said to speed up the airport experience.


Courtesy Delta

Courtesy Delta

This system's been in operation for domestic travelers in the UK for more than a decade. More recently, BA introduced self boarding gates and investigating the use of facial recognition for international travelers.


The British carrier partnered up with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to trial facial recognition for international flights between Orlando and London.


Cooper stresses the speed advantages.


"One of our best times was boarding 240 customers in about 10 minutes, without causing massive queues on the aircraft," he says.


Facial recognition in the US


On the other side of the Atlantic the US government has been using facial recognition for the past 20 years or so, although it's only ramped up biometric boarding recently.


Biometric entry-exit has been recommended -- but not widely enforced -- since the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.


The 9/11 Commission Report -- an official report into the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington -- concluded that a biometric entry-exit screening system for foreign nationals was integral to US national security.


Since the mid-noughties, any non-US citizen who travels to the United States gets their picture taken and fingerprints scanned on arrival.


In 2017 President Donald Trump signed an executive order to accelerate the full roll out of airport biometrics for all domestic and international travelers, something also supported by Barack Obama's administration.


Now facial recognition's going nationwide.


CBP told CNN Travel it's implemented air entry facial biometric capabilities, including four pre-clearance locations, at 15 airports. Biometric air exits are in place at 22 locations.

CBP告诉CNN Travel,该公司已在15个机场实施了空气入口面部生物特征识别功能,包括四个预检点。生物识别空气出口位于22个位置。

Biometric entry involves CBP taking a live image of the traveler at the inspection booth upon arrival in the United States. This image is compared to photos CBP already has stored, including passport and visa photos.


"Both the live image and the gallery photograph are displayed to the CBP officer along with the traveler's biographic data," explains CBP. "Foreign travelers who normally provide fingerprints and a photograph to enter the United States no longer have to provide their fingerprints as their identity is confirmed through the streamlined facial comparison process."

CBP解释说:“现场图像和画廊照片都将与旅行者的传记数据一起显示给CBP官员。” “通常通过提供指纹和面部照片进入美国的外国旅行者不再需要提供指纹,因为通过简化的面部比较过程可以确认其身份。”

As for biometric exit, that's what Mackenzie Fegan experienced with JetBlue. Before an international flight departs, CBP generates a gallery of images of each traveler on board the aircraft. Again, these images are taken from historical photographs such as the traveler's passport, visa or photographs from previous entries.

至于生物识别出口,这就是Mackenzie Fegan在JetBlue身上经历的。在国际航班起飞之前,CBP会生成飞机上每位旅客的图像画廊。同样,这些图像取自历史照片,例如旅行者的护照,签证或以前入境的照片。

At the departure gate, a new photograph is taken via a camera "either operated by CBP or approved partners such as airlines and airport authorities," confirms CBP.


The new image is compared to the old image. If there's any issue, the officials revert to manual passport inspection.


CBP tells CNN the process takes two seconds, at an accuracy rate of 98%.


"It's token-less, it's paperless. It's a two to three second process. It's quicker and efficient," says John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner of field operations at CBP.

CBP现场业务副执行助理约翰·瓦格纳(John Wagner)说:“它无需令牌,无纸,只需两到三秒钟。它更加快捷,高效。”

Customer privacy implications



Airlines and airports say they take customer privacy seriously.


Courtesy Heathrow Airport


For the advocates of airport biometrics, the promise of increased security and ease of travel are a win-win.


Its backers include the World Travel and Tourism Council, a global body which promotes the tourism industry.


"Our priorities are to help increase security and facilitate travel -- and that is where biometrics is very important technology for us and is going to help us to move towards that direction," says Gloria Guevara, the WTTC's CEO.

WTTC首席执行官格洛丽亚·格瓦拉(Gloria Guevara)表示:“我们的首要任务是帮助提高安全性和旅行便利-这是生物识别技术对我们非常重要的技术,它将帮助我们朝着这个方向发展。”

Biometric advocates also point to its use by Apple Pay and the private entry-exit processes such as CLEAR.

生物识别技术的倡导者还指出了Apple Pay和诸如CLEAR之类的私人出入境流程的使用

Wagner also speaks about biometrics helping to eradicate air travel "anxiety," while Cooper says that because British Airways staff aren't spending all their time checking passports, they're better able to give attention to those who need it, such as disabled passengers, nervous fliers or families with children.


Plus, as all the airlines insist -- you can opt out.



Airlines insist it's easy to opt out of biometric boarding.


Courtesy Delta

Courtesy Delta

But what happens if you refuse to be scanned?


Cooper, of British Airways, says the system isn't "forced on anybody."

英国航空公司(British Airways)的库珀(Cooper)表示,该系统并未“强加于任何人”。

It's the same, he says, in the United States. If someone declines facial recognition, they'll have their boarding pass and passport checked manually instead.


Fegan says she feels she was pushed into biometric boarding without her consent.


"What was most alarming to me was that there was no notification of what was going to happen," she says, although she admits it's possible she missed an announcement or some signage.


Some skeptics might suggest it's pointless to protest -- since we live in an era of Big Data. When the government and so many private companies already have so much information on us, why not give them one more piece of the puzzle -- particularly if it makes travel smoother?


"The thing is that I willingly have given much of my personal data, biometrics included, to the US government, I'm a frequent traveler, I signed up for our Global Entry program and TSA PreCheck," says Fegan.

“问题是,我愿意将我的大部分个人数据(包括生物识别信息)提供给美国政府,因为我经常出差,我签署了我们的全球入境计划和TSA PreCheck,” Fegan说。

The difference is, she says, is she entered those after making an "informed decision."


"I weighed, is it going to be worth it for me to skip the three hours immigration line every time I come back into the country, in order to hand over this biometrics in to the US government?" says Fegan.


She also voices concerns about the fact JetBlue is a private company, wondering what the carrier might do with her biometrics.


"It just seemed like it was inching toward Big Brother surveillance in a way that I did not consent to," Fegan says. "The government should not be acting unilaterally and definitely should not be acting together with corporations to decide what is best for the consumer."

费根说:“似乎我正以不同意的方式向老大哥监视进发。” “政府不应该单方面采取行动,绝对不应该与企业一起采取行动来决定什么对消费者最有利。”

Protests and concerns



Some groups are concerned about the privacy implications.


Courtesy Delta

Courtesy Delta

Some civilian groups have also expressed uneasiness about airport facial recognition.


Non-profit organization Fight for the Future, which campaigns for freedom of expression online, launched an interactive map highlighting which airports use the technology, and listing which airlines still operate what it calls "surveillance-free" flights.

非营利组织“为未来而战”(Fight for the Future)开展在线言论自由运动,它发布了一个互动地图,突出显示了哪些机场在使用该技术,并列出了哪些航空公司仍在运营所谓的“无监视”航班。

"We see facial recognition as a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance technology," Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, tells CNN Travel. "We see it as similar to nuclear or biological weapons in terms of the potential harm that it poses to human society,"

“我们认为面部识别是监视技术的一种独特的危险形式的监控技术,”“为未来而战”的副主任埃文·格里尔(Evan Greer)告诉CNN Travel。 “就其对人类社会的潜在危害而言,我们认为它类似于核武器或生物武器,”

Greer says the group is worried that American airports and airlines are a "testing ground" for biometrics, and the technology will soon become commonplace across the United States and internationally.


The organization also expresses concern that airport-based facial recognition will target undocumented people traveling domestically within the United States -- and echos Fegan's fear that commercial airlines could sell the data.


Greer also says opting out of the procedure is likely much harder than it sounds.


"You can imagine that people who are people of color, or religious minorities who are already subjected to additional surveillance and harassment at airports might be more hesitant to opt out of a process like this, even if they are concerned about it," says Greer.

格雷尔说:“您可以想象,有色人种或宗教少数派人士已经在机场受到了额外的监视和骚扰,他们可能会更犹豫地退出此类流程,即使他们对此有所顾虑,” 。

“We see facial recognition as a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance technology. We see it as similar to nuclear or biological weapons in terms of the potential harm that it poses to human society ”


Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future

为未来而战的副主任埃文·格里尔(Evan Greer)

"But I think that the idea that the airlines say that this is opt out, and that solves all the problems with it, is just disingenuous, and doesn't reflect the actual impact on people who are forced to use it at the airport."

“但是,我认为航空公司说这是选择退出的,并解决了所有问题的想法,只是表面上的模棱两可,并没有反映对被迫在机场使用它的人们的实际影响。 ”

Concerns have also been raised around the accuracy of facial recognition technology. A July 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Amazon's face surveillance technology falsely matched photographs 28 members of congress with mugshots of people who had been arrested for crimes.

面部识别技术的准确性也引起了人们的关注。 美国公民自由联盟(ACLU)2018年7月的一份报告称,亚马逊的面部监控技术错误地将28名国会议员的照片与因犯罪而被捕的人的照片相匹配。

The false matches, said the ACLU, were disproportionality of people of color.


Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU, also expresses concern about the power wielded by biometric technology.

ACLU的高级政策分析师Jay Stanley也对生物识别技术的强大功能表示关注担忧。

Stanley suggests to CNN Travel the need for "carefully considered checks and balances to make sure that it's not abused or results in people being unfairly identified as threats, or turned into a mass surveillance tool."

斯坦利向CNN Travel建议,需要“认真考虑制衡,以确保它不会被滥用或导致人们被不公平地识别为威胁,或者变成了大规模监视工具”。

Wagner, of CBP, acknowledges these concerns about facial recognition doubling up as an airport-wide surveillance program -- he's keen to reassure travelers concerned about this scrutiny.


"We're not creating new inspection checkpoints, or we're not creating a new requirement to establish your identity in a public space where there isn't one today," he says.


"What we're doing is simply automating an identity check that's already required by statute, using technology that allows us to do it easier and quicker, for both the government and for the airlines and for the travelers themselves."


The picture that's taken is only compared to previous images that the traveler has already provided to the government, he says.


"We're not taking that new picture and running it against any law enforcement watch lists or any type of other facial recognition databases," Wagner adds.


In the United States, photographs taken of US nationals entering the country are deleted within 24 hours. Photographs of foreign nationals are kept in a secure repository called IDENT.


Photographs taken of US citizens upon departure are deleted with 12 hours of identity verification, while photographs taken of non-US citizens are saved for up to 14 days.


As for the concerns that airlines' might misuse or sell the data, the carriers are adamant that doesn't and will not happen.


"We don't grab, hold or even touch any of that biometrical or identity data," says Cooper, on behalf of British Airways. "It's done purely by the federal government and we don't have any desire to hold on to that information."

库珀代表英国航空公司说:“我们不会抓取,持有或什至触摸任何生物特征或身份数据。” “这完全是由联邦政府完成的,我们不希望保留这些信息。”

Cooper also says BA is committed to keeping passengers up to speed with what's going on. They've got signs up and around boarding, they make announcements and staff will answer any questions travelers may have.


"That's important," he says. "People care about their data and care about their biometrics, they might not call it their biometric, they might have other name for it. But it's important to people, we take that very seriously and we give that information to people and we will reassure them as best we can."

他说:“那很重要。” “人们关心他们的数据并关心他们的生物特征,他们可能不会称其为生物特征,他们可能会使用其他名称。但这对人们很重要,我们非常重视这一点,并将信息提供给人们,我们将保证尽我们最大努力让他们放心。”

American carriers JetBlue and Delta declined CNN Travel's request for an interview.

美国航空公司JetBlue和Delta拒绝了CNN Travel的采访请求。

A JetBlue representative forwarded a self-boarding Q&A, which reiterates how the process works, explains that customers do not have to participate and says the airline doesn't store the photos.


Delta also directed CNN towards its latest press release, stressing facial recognition is optional.


What about the security advantages of facial recognition at airports?


Aviation security expert Jeffrey C. Price, a professor of aviation management at Metropolitan State University of Denver, tells CNN Travel there are "tremendous security benefits that come with facial recognition."

丹佛大都会州立大学航空管理教授,航空安全专家Jeffrey C. Price告诉CNN Travel,“人脸识别具有巨大的安全效益。”

It's much harder to falsify identification that's associated with your face, Price explains.


"This will make known and suspected terrorists, and wanted criminals less likely to go to locations such as an airport where this technology is in place," he says.


Price says, however, that the technology is not without threat.


"The biggest security concern I have with the technology is the ability to hack into the databases and retrieve an individuals biometric data," he says.


"Facial recognition, like all the other biometrics, rely on system inputs such as fingerprints, or measurements of data points on an individual hand or face. It is possible to feed a reader of the data stream (i.e. data points) from an authorized user, directly into the device by physically disrupting or interfering with the fiber optics line, or in some cases, using an internet connection."


Still, the security expert says he doesn't see this threat deterring airlines or airports.


"As someone in the cyber security industry once told me, there are two kinds of people, those that have been hacked and those that just don't know it yet," says Price.


"I think the routine updates to our protections and the occasional hacking of our personal information is a reality we must now simply live with."


The future of travel?



Facial recognition is taking place at India's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.



NOAH SEELAM / AFP / Getty Images

So is biometric technology the future of traveling? It certainly seems likely that within the next few years it'll become the norm.


In China, facial recognition is widespread -- including, but not limited to airports.


In March 2019, technology writer Matthew Brennan Tweeted a video from an airport in China, depicting a system that used facial recognition to provide information about Brennan's flight.

2019年3月,技术作家Matthew Brennan在中国机场发了一段视频 ,描绘了一个使用面部识别系统提供有关Brennan航班信息的系统。

In Amsterdam, Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific is triaiing biometric boarding, while Tokyo Narita International Airport is aiming for a "One ID" ene-to-end biometric boarding process by spring 2020. India's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad launched a facial recognition system this year.

在阿姆斯特丹,香港航空公司国泰航空(Cathay Pacific)正在尝试生物识别登机,而东京成田国际机场则计划在2020年春季之前实现“一个ID”到端生物识别登机过程。印度海得拉巴的拉吉夫·甘地国际机场今年推出了面部识别系统。

Heathrow is undergoing what the airport calls "a biometric revolution" -- plowing £50 million (over $61 million) into making the airport a biometric hub.


Meanwhile London's Gatwick Airport recently announced plans to roll out auto-boarding technology on eight departure gates in its North Terminal, following an extensive renovation.

与此同时,伦敦的盖特威克机场(Gatwick Airport)最近宣布了一项计划,经过大规模的装修后,将在其北航站楼的八个登机口推出自动登机技术。

In Dubai, Terminal 3's "Smart Tunnel" is designed to funnel passengers through passport control via facial recognition.


"I think it makes good sense to use the modern technology to answer those questions," says British Airways' Cooper. "But to do it in a responsible and ethically sound way, as well."

英国航空公司的库珀说:“我认为使用现代技术回答这些问题是很有意义的。” “但也要以负责任和符合道德的方式做到这一点。”

Air travel might be under more scrutiny as sustainability advocates push for alternative modes of transport, but the industry is still thriving -- and officials say they need to work out best practices for handling volumes of people.


"As we try to drive more people through those airports, we're looking for better ways to more efficiently use the resources and the physical infrastructure that's there," says Wagner.


"And if we can modernize manual processes by automating them through the use of the biometric technology, I think that's what governments around the world are really after."


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