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Orlando International Airport (MCO) is becoming the first in the United States to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights, including US citizens, as enforced by the US Customs and Border Protections and Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Orlando is Florida’s busiest airport and received roughly six million international travelers within the past year.
Airports in Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Houston (HOU and IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), San Diego (SAN) and Washington (IAD) already have Customs and Border Protection face scan systems in place, but only for some departing international flights, whereas Orlando’s program will involve every international traveler. To verify the traveler’s identity, the images from the face scan are compared to a Department of Homeland Security biometric database that has images of people who should be on the flight.
US Customs and Border Protection chose to introduce a facial biometric entry-exit system to maximize safety and security so passengers can move quickly and efficiently through the airport. This program comes as CBP celebrates 10 years with the Global Entry program, which expedites clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers arriving in the United States. The program is available in 61 US international airports and 13 Preclearance airports in Aruba, the Bahamas, Canada, Ireland, and United Arab Emirates.
CBP said no new data is required with the facial recognition process; they compare the photographs of travelers with those that are already on file in DHS holdings. The process takes less than 2 seconds, with a 99% matching rate.
The announcement brought on concerns from privacy advocates who say there are no formal rules that handle data extracted from the scans, nor formal guidelines on what should happen if a passenger is wrongly prevented from boarding, the AP reports.
Harrison Rudolph, an associate at the Center on Privacy & Technology at the Georgetown University Law Center, told the AP of his concerns about the face scans’ accuracy because research shows these scans are less accurate with racial minorities, women and children.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman explained to the AP that US citizens will be able to opt out of the face scan if they do not want to provide their photograph, but these rules could change because the new program at Orlando requires people provide photographs when they are entering or leaving the US.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Utah Senator Mike Lee urged the Department of Homeland Security in a letter last month to implement formal rules before the program officially begins.
“It will also ensure a full vetting of this potentially sweeping program that could impact every American leaving the country by airport,” their letter stated.
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