Facial recognition implementations have been appearing at more and more airports in recent years, with seventeen US airports now sporting the tech. This approach to security promises faster airport procedures, greater security, and no need to carry (or lose) a passport. At this time, the system consists of a face matching procedure at departure gates, but there are plans to expand it to check-in, security, and at the gate, where your facial scan is checked against your registered passport photo in a cloud database to confirm your identity. It's quite possible you could make it from the curb to your seat on the plane without taking to anyone. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aim to have the system scan 97% of outbound international travelers by 2021.
However, security experts aren't impressed. They worry that turning one's face into travel documents creates a privacy nightmare. Research into facial recognition software has shown that it's not 100% accurate and that it doesn't work consistently for all races - leading to the possibility of mistaken identities and secondary security measures. They also worry about travelers' movements being tracked indefinitely, as well as what the data is used for once a trip is over. In fact, other government agencies have expressed interest in the data. However, US citizens can opt out and travel with paper documents.
For the time being, the system exists in a bit of a legal gray area. Public comment was not requested before the seventeen US airports installed their systems, and there's currently no specific laws saying that CBP can't gather the data. However, the ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations point out that there's no laws saying that they can. But, there's been legal efforts to gather biometric traveler data on the books since at least 1996, though facial recognition wasn't as advanced then.
Facial recognition measures do serve to help to ensure safety and security, though at what cost remains to be seen.
This article was based on a March 21, 2019 CNet article by Laura Hautala