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Selfies to Replace Boarding Passes When You Fly JetBlue

jet blue facial recognition
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* Facial recognition to replace boarding passes on flights from Boston to Aruba
* Delta also experimenting with photo-based verification
* Unclear storage process raises data security concerns

JetBlue took a step toward Jetsons this week with the announcement of a joint venture with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office, wherein passengers will be able to board flights using a taken-at-the-gate photo rather than a mobile or paper boarding pass.

“Customers who opt in during the boarding process can put away their boarding passes and devices and simply step up to the camera for a quick photo. The custom-designed camera station will connect to CBP to instantly match the image to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database and verify flight details,” said the airline in a press release.

An integrated screen above the camera will notify customers when they are allowed to board. Rather than stay behind a counter, JetBlue agents, armed with iPad minis, will be free to help passengers throughout the process. The new service will roll out this month on flights between Boston’s Logan International Airport and Aruba’s Beatrix International Airport.

“What we want to deliver is a secure and seamless passenger experience,” says Jim Peters, chief technology officer of info-tech provider SITA. “We use sophisticated technologies to enable biometric checks and for CBP authorization to be sent quickly to the airline’s systems.”

Both JetBlue and CBP view the new service as a way to enhance national security while quickly and easily implementing biometric authorization, writes Engadget. The tech journal goes on to say that the “dark side” of the new technology is that it could be used to build a surveillance database of U.S. citizens. “Previously we’ve seen the Customs department push for biometrics where you’d usually only need ID like a driver’s license.”

JetBlue is not the first airline to dabble in biometric authorization. Delta also announced that it would be testing a photo-based bag checking system over the summer; however, Delta’s system will delete the photos right away rather than store them.

Despite the obvious convenience of the photo-based boarding approval, there remain unresolved data security issues. When pressed for details on how photos would be stored, a CBP spokesperson pointed to a document that said images would be destroyed after a flight.

For its part, JetBlue said, “CBP will continue to retain biographic exit records for 15 years for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents and 75 years for non-immigrant aliens, respectively.”