Use of Biometric Security Technology at Airports Raises Concerns

Image: Use of Biometric Security Technology at Airports Raises Concerns

Tuesday, 31 Dec 2013 01:26 PM

By Courtney Coren

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As airports around the world move to more automated airport security functions, concerns are increasing over whether computers will rise to the challenge of actually identifying potential terrorists.

"If you're sweating profusely, for example, the person checking your ID would notice," says Arnold Barnett, an aviation-security expert and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. "But that computer taking an iris scan wouldn't."

Part of keeping travelers safe is "looking at all kinds of things that can't be captured by an algorithm," Barnett told  The Wall Street Journal.

About 28 percent of airports around the world are using biometric technology as part of their airport security, which allows airports to streamline the screening process using machines that can verify identities by scanning faces, irises, or fingerprints. Advocates say the technology could make boarding passes obsolete.

London Gatwick Airport conducted an experiment this year with 3,000 British Airways passengers using biometric scanners instead of boarding passes. The machines scanned the irises of the passengers' eyes when they first checked in, which allowed cameras to identify the travelers at security checkpoints and gates automatically.

While advocates of the technology say that automating some of these processes would free up security personnel to focus on monitoring travelers for suspicious behavior, other experts like Barnett worry that screeners will become too dependent on the technology and it will only serve to dull their senses.

European airports have been much quicker to embrace the biometric technology than American airports, the Journal reported. However, the Transportation Security Administration does currently use the technology for checking employees into some areas and for travelers enrolled in its PreCheck program. It is also used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at U.S. airports.

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