Seattle to become first US Port to apply limits to facial recognition

Dec 11 2019, 11:40 am

International travelers will be seeing facial recognition technology in the near future as the Port of Seattle replaces their current manual passport control and boarding pass processes for newer technology.

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) notified the Port of Seattle that it will open Sea-Tac’s new International Arrivals Facility in the fall of 2020 with full implementation of biometric entry, using facial recognition for immigration and customs screening of almost all arriving international passengers — US Citizens will not have to undergo biometric screening.

This “Simplified Arrivals” method claims to allow for faster processing of passengers, with less staff. It also allows passengers to pick up their bags first, and only have to interact once with the CBP officials.

The Port of Seattle claims that their biometrics will be used only for passport control and boarding pass processes, as they don’t condone the use of biometrics for mass surveillance. The Port is also ensuring that data will remain private and stored for no longer than required by applicable law or regulations. They will also ensure that travelers are well aware of its use, and anyone who isn’t comfortable with the scan can opt for a reasonable alternative.

“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.”

Earlier this year, the port held two study sessions focusing on how private companies use facial recognition technology, biases in the technology, privacy concerns, as well as how port staff have prepared for the adoption of biometrics technology in its facilities. They have already been working on expanding public awareness on how the technology works, how it may be used, and major key policy issues to address.

You can expect to see the policies in effect as early as March 21, 2020, and the biometrics technology in use at Sea-Tac’s new International Arrivals Facility.