Why This Conversation Between a Passenger and an Airline Should Make You Really Nervous

If you’ve ever been to an airport, you know the drill: After checking into your flight and making your way to the security line where you have to fumble for your ID or passport before getting in line. You then have to get to your gate to board your flight—all without misplacing your boarding ID.

But nowadays, you may not need to fumble around looking for our boarding pass anymore—and while that may sound convenient, it’s unfortunately not for a wonderful reason.

One traveler named MacKenzie Fegan was in this exact same situation recently. When she went to hand over her boarding pass to the attendant at the gate, they stopped her and just took a photo instead. And her face was recognized enough to board. Creepy, huh?

Fegan tweeted about her experience to Jet Blue, the airline she was on, to ask about how exactly this worked and when she ever consented to something like this. “I just boarded an international @JetBlue flight. Instead of scanning my boarding pass or handing over my passport, I looked into a camera before being allowed down the jet bridge. Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?” she wrote.

Jet Blue responded to her on Twitter telling her that she was able to opt out of the procedure, and apologized if the process made her feel uncomfortable. But that didn’t quite answer Fegan’s question—and she was not about to take that as a conclusion.

“Presumably these facial recognition scanners are matching my image to something in order to verify my identity,” she wrote. “How does JetBlue know what I look like?”

Jet Blue finally gave her a real response: “The information is provided by the United States Department of Homeland Security from existing holdings,” they wrote.

However, that didn’t make her feel any better. She pummeled Jet Blue with questions and the two went through several more Twitter exchanges before Fegan brought in the Electronic Frontier Foundation to ask how concerned she should be about this new process.

Apparently a system called “Biometric Exit” is able to match up your face to the Customs and Border Protection database, which has photos of you from passport and visa applications.

It turns out that this has actually been going on for about a year, and doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon: The Department of Homeland Security wants to get this same facial recognition technology used in 97% of departing airport passengers by the year 2023.

It may sound convenient and time efficient, but there are lots of privacy concerns that this technology brings to the table.

“You should be concerned,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation responded to Fegen on Twitter. “It’s unprecedented for the government to collect and share this kind of data, with this level of detail, with this many agencies and private partners. We need proper oversight and regulation to ensure our privacy is protected.”

You can view the entire conversation between Fegen and Jet Blue here.

Just a little bit creepy! What do you think of this new facial recognition technology being rolled out so heavily in the future? Have you experienced this before at an airport?