US Customs airport facial recognition scanners keep photos for 75 years

A growing number of airports across the US are using facial recognition scanners – and photos of non-US citizens are being kept for up to 75 years.

Philadelphia International Airport is the latest to roll out the technology, Fox News reports.

“So, this is an electronic way, basically, to verify identity,” said Jeni Best, a branch manager with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

At Philadelphia airport, the machines are set up at three international gates. Passengers will step up to the machines and have their faces scanned before boarding their flight. CBP officials say it takes less than two seconds and has a 99 per cent matching rate.

“It reduces your impostor threat and it provides a secure and efficient way to verify identity,” Ms Best said.

Australian passengers have been part of similar trials of facial recognition technology at Sydney airport.

According to Ms Best, the ultimate goal is for the machines to eliminate the need to show passports. But some people fear the technology threatens their privacy.

“It’s really a very big deal,” said Paul Hudson, president of the non-profit Flyers Rights. Mr Hudson has been working for the airline passenger advocacy group for more than 20 years. His concern is where the photos from the machines end up.

“The databases are, first of all, are not immune to hacking,” he said.

CBP officials say all photos of US citizens are deleted within 12 hours. Photos of non-US citizens can be stored on CBP systems for up to 75 years.

“But that is a practice that CBP already has in place for all visitors,” Ms Best added.

Passengers aren’t completely sure about the technology.

“I’d have to think about it for a little bit,” passenger Ellyn Phair said.

“There are so many things going on with hacks on the computer systems and that is increasing these days, so I feel like that could be a problem.”

Mr Hudson thinks more research needs to be done.

“Before you do something like this, there needs to be a buy-in by a large majority of the population,” he said.

At least 27 airports in 16 states and Washington DC are using facial recognition technology. In Philadelphia, the machines are part of a pilot program, so passengers have the ability to opt out of using them. “They just let either the gate agent know or the CBP officer,” Ms Best said.

Some argue opting out isn’t as easy as it seems. “Based on research I’ve seen, only 2 per cent actually opt out, so that would indicate that people either don’t understand it or … it’s too bothersome to deal with,” Mr Hudson said.

“Right now, it’s an experiment,” said Angelo Reid, who has been working at Philadelphia airport for more than 40 years.

Mr Reid thinks face scanners are just another way to keep people safe.

“Just like anything else, people will grow into it. They’ll get used to it. And they’ll realise it’s for their own safety,” he added.

At Philadelphia airport, the face scanners are running as a pilot program for 45 days. Once the program ends in early March, the airport will likely decide whether to implement them long-term.

This article originally appeared on Fox News and was reproduced with permission

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