Last month, in the digital pages of this here website (and others), Alvaro Bedoya, who directs Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology, warned that a new order from the White House could turn airports into places that send people to jail.
Turns out, that’s already starting to happen.
Customs and Border Protection agents at airports equipped with facial recognition technology are now also allowed to run a passenger’s personal information through an FBI criminal database.
This isn’t happening to everyone who encounters facial recognition software at an airport. Those who do — both U.S. citizens and non-citizens — will provide their boarding pass and probably be asked to stand still for a second at the flight gate while a camera takes their photo.
Those photos are then run against a database of photos the CBP has already compiled from “passenger traveler documents,” according to a recent “privacy impact assessment update” from the Department of Homeland Security. If the system believes your file photo matches the photo the camera just took, you’re good to go.
If not, you’ll be asked to step aside while a CBP officer checks your fingerprints (if you’re not a U.S. citizen) or inspects your travel documents to see if they’re legitimate. If the officer can’t find your fingerprints on file, he or she will run your fingerprints through an FBI criminal database for a match.
For now, facial recognition at U.S. airports is in beta, but Trump’s order sped up “the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for in-scope travelers to the United States.” So don’t bet on it being in beta for too long.