You are at the gate, queuing to get onto your international flight.
You have your boarding pass and passport ready.
As you get your turn, the ground crew asks you to stand in front of the camera, and to look at it.
The gates open.
Erm…what just happened? You are free to board, yet no one has scanned or even looked at your documents.
Facial recognition replace boarding passes
Those were passenger and writer MacKenzie Fegan’s exact thoughts as she boarded an international JetBlue flight a few weeks ago.
She was so perplexed that she even went on to Twitter to ask JetBlue about it:
‘Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?’
And the more important question: How did JetBlue know what Fegan looks like?
Her concerns went viral.
According to JetBlue´s response, the information came from the US Department of Homeland Security which is then transmitted to the Customs and Border Protection (CBD) database. The way it works is that at the gate, the airline takes a photo of the passenger and then matches it against the CBD’s information.
As JetBlue clarified in a statement:
‘The photo captured at the gate is sent directly to CBP, who then compares it against their passport gallery of those on that specific flight. If a match is found, they will return the confirmation number to us, which we will then use to board the Customer.’
Passengers can opt out from the service. But for what I read online, it doesn´t seem very clear how to do so.
It’s not just JetBlue, other airlines have been testing facial recognition programs since 2015.
Now US homeland security is looking at rolling this out in more airports. The goal is to check 97% of passengers leaving the country in the next four years.
Airlines are selling facial recognition as a convenient and seamless service. But the whole thing should be raising alarms.
Facial recognition in airports opens the gates to it getting applied to more areas of our lives. Some airlines are already looking at expanding their facial recognition services for check-ins and bag checks.
In many ways facial recognition could use and abuse our information to invade our privacy. It could change our world to something akin to 1984´s dystopia.
Increasing facial recognition means you are in constant supervision…always.
China’s extreme use of facial recognition tech
To look at how the use of facial recognition could affect us all in the near future, you can get a glimpse from the city of Shenzhen, in China.
Law enforcement there is using facial recognition technology to spot jaywalkers. Offenders are then shamed online. They get their blurred photo publicly posted, along with their last names and partial ID.
But there is more.
In a recent Bloomberg video titled ‘Inside China´s High Tech Dystopia’, a marketing manager living in Shenzhen described his experience after he jaywalked:
‘All of a sudden I got a fine to my WeChat…It was about 20 seconds after I guess. I had money in my balance it just went straight out. This is just the one thing, it just came straight out. That was incredible.’
China is looking to roll out a Social Credit Program in 2020. The goal is to have a file for each citizen, and to give them a score to reflect how trustworthy the government thinks you truly are. This includes your online and offline persona.
Jaywalk, post something negative against the government online, or forget to make a payment and you could be blacklisted. It could influence where you live, if you can get credit, and even result in travel restrictions.
Yet China’s experiment demonstrates the power and dangers of combining big data and technology, and how much it could affect your finances and restrict your wealth.
Big tech is already using facial recognition
In fact, big tech is already using facial recognition.
Amazon has already been working with governments on providing facial recognition technology and Facebook is using facial recognition to tag you on photos.
People have willingly given tech companies their data. They have used this data to monetise it from advertisers. But they could also be using it to create a huge database to identify and classify people.
The truth is, that massive amount of data stored in one place is very powerful.
Your info could be already out there getting shared among law enforcement agencies or even private companies, like JetBlue.
And this should worry us all. Any information could be used to restrict your freedom and finances.
Editor, Markets & Money