Facial Recognition Takes Over the Skies

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted July 5, 2019

Last week, Delta Air Lines became the latest airline company to expand its use of facial recognition technology.

The company announced it’d partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to install facial recognition at three airports over the next month.

It’ll be at boarding gates and used for international flights, saving passengers roughly nine minutes of boarding time.

Of course, its use is optional. So if it makes you uncomfortable you can opt out by telling a Delta gate agent and board the old-fashioned way.

That’s fine, too. It’ll just take a little longer.

And while there is some unease about the rapid proliferation of facial recognition technology, the broader public is generally okay with it.

A total of 93% of passengers have no issues using facial recognition technology, according to third-party customer insight research, with 72% actually preferring the process to standard boarding.

Another survey by PC Mag found that 69% of respondents answered that they trust facial recognition technology in general.

That’s good, because it’s certainly not going anywhere.

To the contrary, the Department of Homeland Security says it plans to use facial recognition at the top 20 airports for all international air travelers by 2021 — and at the remainder of airports by 2023.

This initiative has been accelerated by President Trump, who mandated its adaptation in Section 8 of Executive Order 13769.

As a result, any person flying into, or out of, the United States on an international flight will have their faces scanned, photographed, and compared to their passport picture.

It’s a tall task, as more than 100 million passengers travel on 16,300 international flights per week.

But it’s already paying off.

The CBP says it’s processed more than 19 million travelers using facial recognition technology in airports and at borders, catching 135 "imposters" whose identities did not match their ID documents.

It’s also identified more than 7,000 people overstaying their visas.

"With facial comparison biometrics, CBP is changing solving a security challenge while adding a convenience for travelers," said a CBP spokesperson.

However, this is also about more than security.

The government’s end vision is for CBP to build a vast “backend communication portal to support TSA, airport, and airline partners in their efforts to use facial images as a single biometric key for identifying and matching travelers to their identities.”

In layman’s terms, this means that facial recognition will also be used for things like check-in, baggage drop, security checkpoints, lounge access, boarding, and other ancillary processes.

This technology will streamline air travel, allowing passengers to check bags, move through security, and board a plane much more quickly.

And like I said, it’s coming fast.

This facial recognition technology is already being used in 17 international airports, including Atlanta, New York, Boston, San Jose, Chicago, and Houston. And virtually every major airline — Delta, JetBlue, British Airways, Lufthansa, and American Airlines — is taking part.

The pilot program was launched in 2016 at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Once a day, passengers boarding a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo had their passport photos biometrically matched to real-time pictures.

Before travelers proceeded to the passenger loading bridge to board their flight, CBP officers told them to scan their boarding passes while a camera snapped a digital image of the traveler’s face.

The CBP-developed backend system, called the Departure Information System, then used facial recognition to automatically compare photos during boarding against a photo gallery.

By the end of November 2016, CBP was running tests on an average of seven flights per week. And by June 2017, three more international airports were added to further assess the facial matching technology. And five more airports were taking part four months later.

Today there are 17.

And the end result?

CBP has concluded that facial recognition technology was the most efficient and traveler-friendly biometric solution available.

It’s quick, it’s accurate, and airlines are excited about the possibilities.

After all, you have to remember that airlines, the TSA, and CBP are all fighting the same battle. They’re all facing increased traveler volume that can easily result in bottlenecks, mobs, and frustration for travelers.

This technology aims to alleviate that problem.

And anyone worried about privacy can take solace...

Once a traveler is identified and confirmed as a U.S. citizen, their images are deleted. The airlines are not permitted to use the photos for any other purpose, and they have to allow CBP to audit compliance.

And as I mentioned earlier, you can still decline facial verification and instead have your identity confirmed through the usual manual boarding process.

But again, few do, as it’s a matter of convenience.

According to Delta, less than 2% of its weekly 25,000 passengers going through the Atlanta airport’s Terminal F, which features “curb to gate” facial recognition systems, opt out of using the tech.

And this is just the beginning.

This technology is flying out of airports and into every highly-trafficked marketplace and concourse in America.

It was even used at Super Bowl LIII.

And that’s where the profit opportunity comes in.

You see, I recently profiled a company that’s leading the field in this technology.

It’s a company that makes facial recognition software that can be used for both advertising and security purposes.

It’s tiny — trading at just $0.50 per share — but I expect huge things from it.

You can find out more about that here.

Fight on,

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Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is Assistant Managing Editor of the Outsider Club and Investment Director of The Wealth Warrior, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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