Over the last month, some very stark writing has appeared on the wall regarding the advancement of mandatory biometric IDs being imposed for U.S. air travelers.
On May 19th I reported on a new program initiated by Delta Airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to have automated baggage kiosks for “priority customers” that will first scan a traveler’s passport, then their face in order to match identity to checked luggage. It was promoted as a “pilot program” that Delta launched to seek customer feedback in the hope that it could be rolled out more widely in the future.
This announcement was followed by JetBlue who stated they will “test facial- and fingerprint-recognition technology at two U.S. airports to replace boarding passes, building on industry efforts to increase security and ease passage through airports.”
These announcements in and of themselves are enough to heighten concern about additional data collection and databasing that any form of biometric ID entails, but the JetBlue announcement contained an ominous new level of integration between public and private entities:
JetBlue is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and SITA, an information-technology provider for airlines.
“This is the first integration of biometric authorization by the CBP with an airline and may prove to be a solution that will be quick and easy to roll out across U.S. airports,” Jim Peters, SITA’s chief technology officer, said in the statement. (emphasis added)
An article published just days ago by FedScoop further confirms what the independent media has been warning for years – namely, that enhanced security measures which many believed would be used only against specific groups of supposedly scary people is set to trickle down to any and all of the traveling public. Even the title of the FedScoop article is a vindication of those “conspiracy theorists” who had the temerity to suggest a much wider plan for an incremental rollout when these measures first were hinted at.
In the article “CBP will implement long-mandated biometric exit at airports, official says” we discover the length of the plan, the hurdles that needed to be overcome and why we most likely are witnessing intensified media coverage at this moment:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is finally addressing the 15-year-old-plus legislative mandate to check the identity of departing foreign visitors using biometrics, CBP Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner said Thursday.
Wagner said the goal would be accomplished by making use of existing data collection, the latest facial recognition technology and cloud computing. He acknowledged there would be privacy issues – particularly because the facial recognition technology would capture images of U.S. citizens as part of the overall process.
“We’re out of time, we’re out of excuses,” Wagner said.
The “overall process” it turns out must be sweeping due to the sluggish nature of retrieving and cross-referencing the already hundreds of millions of fingerprints and photos. Even though that process would take only 2 minutes for each traveler, when multiplied by the number of travelers it would create even worse headaches during the boarding process.
The a-ha moment, he said came with the thought, “What about leveraging existing processes, existing data we’re already collecting?”…
“What if we could use that [biographical data] to pull the photos of the departing passengers on that flight into a segmented cloud” and then check the faces of those boarding the plane, one-to-many, against that dataset, which he said would take only a few seconds because of its small size and the efficiency of the latest matching algorithms.
It’s “easy for travelers, not as imposing as us taking fingerprints,” he said and the infrastructure was “A camera on a pole.”
Moreover, he added, the same process could be used “any place you have to show your ID [in the airport] … the TSA checkpoint, the duty free store, the [executive] lounge.” Instead of showing an ID, a passenger’s identity and flight could be confirmed using facial recognition, checked against the picture in the CBP segmented cloud.
Apparently, in the name of efficiency, (perceived) security and government mandate, the acknowledged privacy concerns are slated for eventual dismissal.
Nonetheless, Wagner said, CBP were determined to push ahead. “We’re gonna build that cloud space,” he said.
This should be viewed as the next stage of incrementalism where all becomes revealed as self-evident that this is not about the control of any one group, but is designed for all. People are now openly being transformed into digital organisms made easier for scanning and processing. The political will is there, the databases exist, and the technology is clearly being rolled out across every meaningful area of human activity.
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