By Nicholas West
Biometric identification has quietly rolled out at several U.S. airports and various locations around the world. In some cases, it has been sprung upon the general traveling public without warning, leaving some to question how optional this will be as travelers become acclimatized to the new boarding process.
According to a new announcement from the World Travel & Tourism Council, it appears that the roll out is set to accelerate and begin a much louder PR push to prepare the public for a new world of integrated biometrics for every phase of travel. A new public-private partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection seems to widen the scope of the U.S. government mandate that is 15 years in the making to require biometric ID.
Private companies already have been enlisted by CBP to integrate their systems into government databases for ID verification. As stated by Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, one of the information technology companies working with airlines, they are looking for a “quick and easy roll out across U.S. airports.” He added that the goal is a system as “quick as a Google search for most passengers.”
Despite many privacy groups warning about the type of incremental “mission creep” we have seen across the spectrum of technological tracking and surveillance, the future of global air travel is clearly poised to become even more invasive. This latest press release is the clearest admission to date about what travelers can expect “using biometric technology throughout the entire journey.” The mission creep is real: the use of biometrics will not only be for boarding, but as noted at the end will include everything from booking to car rental to hotel check-in. My emphasis added throughout.
U.S. CBP and WTTC join forces to increase security and positively transform the traveller experience
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the leaders of the global Travel & Tourism private sector, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have begun working together through a public-private partnership to strengthen U.S. borders, increase security and improve the traveller experience through the entire journey by making travel more efficient and seamless for passengers with the use of technology.
Both WTTC and CBP are committed to the application of facial biometrics in the travel journey as a means of maximising security while ensuring legitimate tourists can visit the country to create jobs and drive economic growth.
Through its Seamless Traveller Journey initiative, WTTC is working to bring the entire sector together – via a harmonised approach, interoperability, and some common standards – to use facial biometric technology in Travel & Tourism, which can be applied on a country-by-country basis throughout the travel journey.
Research shows that almost one million jobs could be created in the U.S. travel industry by using biometric technology throughout the entire journey, which will drive growth and efficiencies.
As the guardian of the United States’ borders, CBP has a complex mission to secure the borders from dangerous people and goods, while at the same time facilitating lawful travel and trade to support economic prosperity. Based upon its commitment to innovation and public-private partnerships, CBP built a facial biometric matching service to support airport and airline stakeholder integration for biometric exit and other passenger services to enhance the customer experience. CBP is committed to its privacy obligations and has taken steps to safeguard the privacy of all travelers.
Currently, CBP is testing biometric exit at 15 major airports across the United States. The facial recognition verification process takes less than 2 seconds, with a high 90 per cent matching rate. CBP has also implemented facial comparison technology for arrival processing at 14 locations, which includes four Preclearance locations. The new simplified arrival process enables increased security, faster throughput, and better efficiency.
Gloria Guevara, President & CEO, WTTC, said: “Through the work of CBP, the United States is leading the implementation of facial biometric technology, which is universally recognised as the best solution for a seamless experience for the traveller and for increased security. Partnerships, like this one with the U.S. CBP, will help the travel industry to transform the experience for the traveller and to ensure that travel becomes more efficient for passengers and more secure for border agencies, while respecting individuals’ privacy and data security.”
“CBP is excited to have the support of the WTTC as we align efforts to expand a seamless travel experience through the use of facial biometrics,” said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
“With its global reach, the WTTC can encourage other countries to join this partnership with the goal of providing travellers a safe, consistent, end-to-end travel process around the world.”
In early 2019, the organisation is coordinating, with support from its Members and leaders, the first end-to-end, round-trip, biometric pilot covering the entire journey. This begins at the point of booking with a travel company and continues at the airport, through airline check-in, security, boarding, border management, car hire, and hotel check-in, and then on the return, through immigration and departure in a round-trip between two continents.
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