Orlando International Airport to Scan Faces of US Citizens

    21 June, 2018

    Florida's busiest airport will be the first in the country to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights.

    Officials there say all passengers, including U.S. citizens, will be scanned.

    Orlando International Airport's expected policy worries some privacy advocates. They say there are no rules in place for dealing with the information taken from the scans. Also, there is no system for assisting a passenger who is wrongly prevented from getting on an airplane.

    FILE - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial recognition device is ready to scan another passenger at a United Airlines gate.
    FILE - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial recognition device is ready to scan another passenger at a United Airlines gate.

    Airports in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York and Washington already use face scans for some departing international flights. However, they do not scan all international travelers like the airport in Orlando plans to do.

    The image from the face scan is compared to a Department of Homeland Security biometric database. The department has images of people to confirm travelers' identities.

    Harrison Rudolph is with the Center on Privacy & Technology at the Georgetown University Law Center. He said U.S. citizens at these airports can refuse to be scanned. But the agency does not seem to be letting people know they can refuse, he noted.

    Jennifer Gabris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, wrote the Associated Press about the policy. U.S. citizens at the Orlando airport can refuse to be scanned if they do not want to provide their photograph, she wrote. However, a notice about a possible rule change for the program says "U.S. citizens may be required to provide photographs upon entering or departing the United States."

    Rudolph said the Orlando announcement marks an increase in the face scan program.

    "We're not talking about one gate," he said. "We're talking about every international departure gate, which is a huge expansion of the number of people who will be scanned. Errors tend to go up as uses go up."

    Orlando International Airport had about 6 million international passengers in the past year.

    Rudolph said he is worried about the face scans' exactness. Some research shows they are less exact with racial minorities, women and children. Some researchers say this is because pictures used in the face-scanning software underrepresent minorities, women and young people.

    Last month, two U.S. senators sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which is home to the border protection agency. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Mike Lee of Utah urged that official rules be put in place before the program is expanded.

    Official rules, the senators explained, would help Americans understand and accept the program. They noted that this is important because it would affect every American leaving the country by airport.

    I'm Susan Shand.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    scanv. to look at the inside of (something) by using a special machine

    departv. to leave

    advocaten. a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy

    biometricadj. involving the application of statistical analysis to biological data

    gate n. an area at an airport where passengers arrive and leave

    error n. a mistake

    softwaren. the programs that run on a computer and perform certain functions