Delta Airlines Launches Facial Recognition at LA Airport

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A new program at Los Angeles International Airport will allow travelers to shave minutes off their boarding time, but they’ll have to step into a kiosk that uses facial recognition technology to verify their identity.

The rollout on Friday from Delta Airlines on the new board option comes amid calls for a statewide moratorium of facial recognition technology used in police body cameras in California.

Delta Airlines intends to install more than a dozen biometric check-in kiosks at LAX before the end of the year, but the news drew criticism from privacy advocates who say a traveler’s information could be used against them by law enforcement.

A spokesperson for Delta Airlines said images of passengers are matched up with the flight manifest and will not be stored by the airline.

California Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, calls the use of facial recognition technology at an international airport a major concern for privacy rights and civil liberties.

“First, you want to know how will this be used and how would this invade people’s privacy? Which people will be falsely accused and falsely imprisoned?” Ting said in an interview.

Travelers make their way up the arrival ramp at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Ting authored Assembly Bill 1215 which seeks to stop police departments from using facial recognition technology on body cameras. The technology is not in use by any police agencies with their body cameras in California, but Ting said there are still too many unknown variables when it comes to this type of technology.

He compares the use of biometric data to how Facebook was able to convince people to hand over personal data when the social media platform launched. People were willing because it seemed harmless, Ting told Courthouse News.

“Facebook used all that personal information to make billions selling that data to advertisers and other parties and people are just now starting to recognize the unintended consequences,” Ting said. “People will not realize what they lost until it’s too late.”

Delta says its facial recognition is “built on several years of optional facial recognition board tests” at airports in Atlanta, Detroit and New York with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The airline said biometric check-ins are optional and all information is encrypted, while CBP said all photos it receives of U.S. citizens are discarded within 12 hours of the traveler going through the check-in process.

As of August 2019, 21 million travelers have had their biometric information processed with a 98% match rate. British Airways first launched a biometric boarding option in January 2018 at LAX and other airlines soon followed.

Around the same time, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the California Consumer Privacy Act, which ensures that any business that collects biometric data needs to inform the public and delete that information if requested by the consumer. But staff attorney Mohammad Tajsar with the American Civil Liberties Union said while California has some of the strictest protection laws for consumer privacy, those might bind local law enforcement, but not federal agencies.

There is an opaque side to how airlines or other businesses will share this data despite what is conveyed to the public, Tajsar said.

“The issues there really speak to the lack of regulation and rules around the maintenance of really sensitive and private information,” Tajsar told Courthouse News. “It’s the wild west.”

While Delta Airlines seeks to streamline its boarding process, law enforcement agencies have actively sought biometric data while exploiting databases with individual photographs, Tajsar said.

Delta said its new check-in process is just like if someone were to hand their passport to an agent at a terminal gate and have their photo matched up to what U.S. Customs and Border Protection has on file for international travelers.

“The more that facial recognition and biometric identification are used at airports and ports of entry the more likely we’re going to see the Department of Homeland Security utilize the same information to partner with these private companies to use those tools against vulnerable communities,” Tajsar said.

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