Cruising Through Travel with Biometrics

I recently read an article about some cruise lines and airports relying on facial recognition to check in and track passengers. The idea behind this is simple, we all have unique biometric data. This can refer to retina scans, fingerprints, or facial scans, for example. At airports, the idea is to use facial recognition scans to verify passengers without the need to physically check a passport, or identification. Cruise ships are using facial recognition to track passengers as they disembark and come back aboard after excursions. One cruise ship I read about was using the facial recognition softwares to match people to photos taken of them. It could even blur other people in the background depending on which level of permissions they had agreed to.

As usual, I find myself both fascinated and creeped out, at the same time. I can definitely see the benefits and the convenience. I always harbor a secret fear of being photographed by accident, or in the background, of somebody else’s photo. My fear is that the photo gets posted on social media, or shared in places I wouldn’t willingly agree to. Having the option to have my image blurred in the background, or anonymized in some way, automatically seems great. I would love to have stronger digital rights over the photos I take and share. Or equally other people’s photos with me in them.

However, given the high error rate of facial recognition with certain groups of people, I remain skeptical about the accuracy. Also, if you’re like me with a generic-looking face, there could be cases of mistaken identity. I’ve lost count of the number of times people approach me in public to ask me my name, thinking I’m somebody they know. Yet, when I tell them no, they often get strangely passionate about it. At times, I’ve had people persist and ask if I’m related to the person they thought I was.

I’m also dubious about the destruction of this collected data. Though the cruise lines and airports may say one thing, I suspect they might keep our biometric data longer than we would like.

It seems inevitable that these services will come, probably sooner than I would like. The first time I coast through the airport without having to pull out my passport once, it will be fascinating and creepy. All things to think about during my flight.

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