Six Major U.S. Airports Now Using Biometrics for All International Departures

By George Khoury, Esq. on July 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In six major airports across the country, a futuristic security feature is being rolled out for international travelers courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security: biometric face scanning. Simply put, this security feature digitally scans a person's face and can compare the live scan to official pictures, such as a passport photo, to ensure individuals are who they say they are.

Fortunately, the biometric face scan doesn't require you to do anything different. There's no dark hole you have to stick your face into or anything like that. The biometric scanner works pretty much like a camera. It captures an image of your face, but then uses special software to analyze your facial features, such as cheekbone height or pupillary distance, and compares your real life face to the photo for your official government identification. It can also check your scan against state and federal databases.

Privacy Concerns

For travelers embarking on international flights, the thought of having your face scanned may feel invasive, but it may not actually raise any legal privacy concerns. For starters, the information being collected is only to be used for security and law enforcement purposes. Additionally, the actual information being collected isn't really private information. Any person who steps foot into public, to a certain extent, can be photographed by anyone else, though what that picture can be used for varies based on jurisdiction and publicity rights.

Furthermore, like the body scanners that are already in use, the biometric face scanners rely on software rather than individuals to interpret the raw data collected. This creates less risk of misuse and invasion of privacy.

How to Avoid Airport Biometric Face Scans

For now, Customs and Border Protection, which runs the DHS, is saying that the only way for U.S. travelers to ensure they do not encounter a biometric face scan when departing the country is to not travel internationally. Since there are only six airports currently participating in the government face scanning program, you can simply avoid being subjected to it by avoiding connections in airports in the following cities:

  • New York City
  • Washington D.C.
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Houston
  • Atlanta

However, like most experienced travelers know, plans can change, and planes can be rerouted. So even if you book your travel through a city not listed above, you could still wind up leaving the country through one. Lastly, by September 2017, the program is expected to roll out to five additional major airports, with even more airports joining in 2018.

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