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What You Need to Know About Facial Recognition at Airports


Since deployment, in about the first three years, primarily in the air passenger environment and somewhat in maritime, we have identified about 300 impostors using the technology. That doesn’t mean we would not have otherwise identified them. In the last year, at pedestrian land crossings at the southern land border, it caught about 1,000 to 1,100.

Our business use case is in identifying individuals at a time and place where they would normally expect to present themselves for identity verification. We are not grabbing images and scraping social media. Individuals are presenting a passport and we have a repository to tap into and build galleries in advance of their arrival using U.S. passport photos and photos of those who have applied for visas. So we build these galleries in the airport and maritime environments based on information already provided for identity verification. We match it to the information we have.

And we’re making sure there’s secure encryption. When a gallery is created, that photo isn’t attached to any information and can’t be reverse engineered to be compromised. The design is based on the privacy measures we knew had to be in place. Images for U.S. citizens are retained less than 12 hours and often times much less.

That’s certainly something we’re very tuned into. We have partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide information on the program. Our high-performing algorithms show virtually no demonstrable difference when it comes to demographics.

Travel Trends That Will Define 2022

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Looking ahead. As governments across the world loosen coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry hopes this will be the year that travel comes roaring back. Here is what to expect:

Lodging. During the pandemic, many travelers discovered the privacy offered by rental residences. Hotels hope to compete again by offering stylish extended-stay properties, sustainable options, rooftop bars and co-working spaces.

Rental cars. Travelers can expect higher prices, and older cars with high mileage, since companies still haven’t been able to expand their fleets. Seeking an alternative? Car-sharing platforms might be a more affordable option.

Cruises. Despite a bumpy start to the year, thanks to Omicron’s surge, demand for cruises remains high. Luxury expedition voyages are particularly appealing right now, because they typically sail on smaller ships and steer away from crowded destinations.

Destinations. Cities are officially back: Travelers are eager to dive into the sights, bites and sounds of a metropolis like Parisor New York. For a more relaxing time, some resorts in the U.S. are pioneering an almost all-inclusive model that takes the guesswork out of planning a vacation.

Experiences. Travel options centered around sexual wellness (think couples retreats and beachfront sessions with intimacy coaches) are growing popular. Trips with an educational bent, meanwhile, are increasingly sought after by families with children.

We post signage at all ports of entry. Individuals opting out need to notify the officer at inspection. It would then revert to the manual process.

We have it rolled out in pedestrian lanes at land borders. In the air environment, we’re covering about 99 percent with Simplified Arrival. The land border is the final frontier. We just completed a 120-day pilot in the car lanes at Hidalgo, Texas, and we’ll be evaluating the outcome. At cruise terminals, we’re in the 90 percent range. We’re working with nine major carriers at eight ports of entry, including Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, all in Florida.

We welcome the scrutiny from privacy advocacy groups. We want to be able to tell and share the story about the investment we’ve made with respect to privacy. There are so many myths and so much misinformation out there, conflating what we do with surveillance. Anytime new technology is rolled out, there are always legitimate concerns. We welcome those questions. They help us answer better when we are building out these systems.

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.

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