The Port of Seattle has announced it is to become the first port in the United States to adopt principles limiting the implementation of public-facing facial recognition technology.
The port said the purpose of this move is to ensure that any use of such technology is “clearly justified, equitable, and transparent,” and have developed a working group to develop these principles into enforceable policies by 31 March next year.
“We know of more than 20 other airports that have implemented facial recognition technology, but no other Port has undergone a public process to ensure that implementation would protect passenger rights, and be limited, transparent, and ethical,” explained Port of Seattle Commission President Stephanie Bowman.
“We feel that our community expects more than to have this kind of technology rolled out without any public discussion or input. When this Commission adopts policies in 2020 we will have and have the opportunity to create the nation’s best practices for public-facing biometrics.”
Commissioners also clarified that no biometric technology shall be implemented at Port facilities until Commissioners formally consider working group recommendations and develop policy by June 30, 2020.
This month, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) notified the Port of Seattle in a letter that it agrees to the Port’s principles and will follow them in federal implementation of facial recognition technology at Port facilities.
The Port developed the principles and working group strategy after inviting comment from airlines, cruise lines, federal agencies, and civil liberty and immigrant rights groups during public meetings in September and October.
“Biometric authentication” – otherwise known as “biometrics” – uses biological measurements or physical characteristics (such as facial recognition) to identify individuals. It can make travel safer and more efficient by speeding up passenger processing. However, it also raises concerns about privacy, racial equity, cybersecurity, civil liberties and unforeseen uses that raise ethical questions.
The Port of Seattle has said it is only considering facial recognition technology for use in confirming identity during passenger processing, replacing current manual passport control and boarding pass processes for international flights. It does not condone biometrics for “mass surveillance” – use of facial recognition on large groups of people without a lawful purpose.
The Port is acting ahead of a national rise in public-facing facial recognition technology deployment over the next few years by its private sector and federal partners. Currently, CBP uses facial recognition technology for international arrivals processing at 11 U.S. airports and 6 cruise terminals, while airports and airlines have implemented facial recognition for international departures at 20 airports.
Airports currently using facial recognition technology include Atlanta, Dulles, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, JFK, Las Vegas, LAX, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, and Portland, Oregon.