Bio Tech Speeds Up Travel But At A Cost To Privacy

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Written By Mahmoud Sarvari

Most of us look forward to the winter holiday season but dread passing through security and passport control in airports.

In some airports, travellers must wait for nearly three hours to pass airside.

And as the number of passengers taking to budget flights grows, even small airports are looking towards biometric security to speed the process.

But what do airlines and airports know about you and how is the data stored?

Major hubs like Atlanta and Heathrow have biometric systems that have no human involvement.

Facial recognition makes a snap decision about who you are by comparing your image with one on file and speeds up boarding by seven minutes.

March of technology

Many airports, such as New Delhi in India, have fingerprint technology to identify travellers. Other technology that analyses the way you walk and detects identity from handwriting is under development. Some airports have full body scanners – like Manchester in the UK.

Research by a biometric data processing company SITA revealsthat 77% of airports and 70% of airlines are ready to invest heavily in scanning technology, but does faster boarding counter losing control of your privacy?

Elbson Quadros, SITA vice president, Latin America, said: “Rising passenger numbers, while welcome, can put a real strain on airport resources. Today, airports are investing in technology to help alleviate capacity constraints. They are implementing intelligent technologies to manage wait times as effectively as possible.

“Combined with this, self-service continues to reduce passenger processing times at the airport. Passenger processing at off-airport locations is another element in the tech-savvy airport’s toolkit. By 2021 nearly half (46%) plan to have off-airport services.”

Security is a trade-off for privacy

The downside is passengers will have personal data stored by security services for biometric comparison.

The US Department of Homeland Security says biometrics are kept for 14 days, but does not reveal how the information is used during that time. Controversially, images captured as people pass through airports are taken without permission and with no mention of how they are stored or processed.

Airport security is vital in the fight to tackle terrorism, but does security come at the cost of privacy and the right to know what happens to your personal data?

Jennifer Lynch, of the digital rights non-profit campaign Electronic Frontier Foundation, has said she is wary of facial recognition, and sees a threat to privacy.

“We have a constitutional right to travel and right to anonymous association and we are concerned that electronic security presents the risk of a data breach,” she said.