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Your face is your passport: American Airlines launches biometric boarding program

Your face is your passport: American Airlines launches biometric boarding program
A passenger preparing to board an American Airlines flight to Beijing uses a facial recognition camera to confirm his identity at Los Angeles International Airport. American Airlines has begun a 90-day testing period for the facial recognition technology. (American Airlines)

The use of biometrics to identify air travelers is expanding, with the world’s largest airline launching a program that uses facial recognition technology for some fliers at Los Angeles International Airport.

American Airlines has begun using facial recognition cameras on a 90-day test basis to identify passengers before they board some international flights leaving from Terminal 4.

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The pilot program, which started Wednesday, comes three months after the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched a 30-day program to test facial recognition technology for passengers flying out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Beginning this month, Delta Air Lines plans to let international travelers use facial recognition to check in to a flight, drop off a bag, move through security screening and board a plane at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

In all three programs, passengers don’t have to scan a passport or a driver’s license to confirm their identity. Instead, a camera snaps an image of the flier and compares that to existing photos on file with Customs and Border Protection. The systems are designed to confirm an identity within seconds — faster and more accurately than an airline employee or federal screener can do it.

In all three programs, passengers have the option of avoiding the camera and using a passport to confirm their identity.

Not everyone is happy with the expanded use of the new technology.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group that advocates on privacy issues, worries that government agencies can use the technology to identify Americans in most public places without their knowledge.

“These facial recognition programs at airports expose travelers to substantial privacy risks,” said Jeramie D. Scott, national security counsel director for the group.

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