Your Face Is, or Will Be, Your Boarding Pass

Tech-driven changes are coming fast and furiously to airports, including advancements in biometrics that verify identity and shorten security procedures for those passengers who opt into the programs. From a report: If it's been a year or more since you traveled, particularly internationally, you may notice something different at airports in the United States: More steps -- from checking a bag to clearing customs -- are being automated using biometrics. Biometrics are unique individual traits, such as fingerprints, that can be used to automate and verify identity. They promise both more security and efficiency in moving travelers through an airport where, at steps from check-in to boarding, passengers are normally required to show government-issued photo identification. In the travel hiatus caused by the pandemic, many airports, airlines, tech companies and government agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and United States Customs and Border Protection continued to invest in biometric advancements. The need for social distancing and contactless interactions only added to the urgency. "The technologies have gotten much more sophisticated and the accuracy rate much higher," said Robert Tappan, the managing director for the trade group International Biometrics + Identity Association, who called the impetus to ease crowds and reduce contact through these instruments "COVID-accelerated." Many of the latest biometric developments use facial recognition, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently found is at least 99.5 percent accurate, rather than iris-scanning or fingerprints. "Iris-scanning has been touted as the most foolproof," said Sherry Stein, the head of technology in the Americas for SITA, a Switzerland-based biometrics tech company. "For biometrics to work, you have to be able to match to a known trusted source of data because you're trying to compare it to a record on file. The face is the easiest because all the documents we use that prove your identity -- driver's licenses, passports etc. -- rely on face." Shortly after 9/11, Congress mandated an entry and exit system using biometric technology to secure U.S. borders. Some travelers have expressed concerns about privacy, and while companies and agencies using the technology say they do not retain the images, the systems largely rely on willing travelers who agree to their use.

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