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Image credit: Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

Your face could be your ticket to fly on JetBlue (updated)

The airline is testing biometrics as a way to replace boarding passes.
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Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

Airports are where hopes and dreams go to die. But JetBlue thinks that one method of how people typically pass the time could be used to speed up the boarding process. For some passengers, a taken-at-the-gate photo will suffice to get them to their sky-chair. It's part of a collaboration between the airline and the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office, Jetblue announced today.

"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.

The customer will be notified on an integrated screen above the camera when they are cleared to proceed to the jet bridge. The setup will move JetBlue crewmembers from behind the counter to interact with customers and assist throughout the process. JetBlue will issue iPad minis to crewmembers, giving them mobility to monitor and manage the boarding process while interacting with customers."

It'll start in very limited fashion this June, and only on service from flights to Beatrix International Airport in Aruba from Boston's Logan International Airport.

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

The pair are pitching this as a way of "enhancing" US national security and that it could be a quick and easy way to put biometric authorization in pretty much any airline and airport. The dark side of this is that the tech could be used to further build a surveillance database of US citizens. Previously we've seen the Customs department push for biometrics where you'd usually only need ID like a driver's license.

Delta recently announced it was testing a photo-based bag checking system over the summer, but clarified that its photos would be deleted "immediately" following a match. We'll update this post with more information about JetBlue and the CBP's plans for photo storage should it arrive.

Update: A spokesperson for the CBP office didn't explicitly say how photos would be stored in this case, but pointed to a document (PDF) that says in previous cases photos were "purged" after a flight ended. When asked about how photos will be stored and the security that will protect said photos, a JetBlue spokesperson directed me to this morning's press release. The info contained therein doesn't include clarification on photo storage or safeguards.

Update 2: When pressed for more information about how photos will be secured, transmitted and stored, a JetBlue spokesperson responded with the following, referencing pre-existing documents:

"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, consistent with the BCI[1] and NIIS[2] SORNs, respectively. However, records associated with a law enforcement action are retained for 75 years, consistent with the TECS SORN.[3] [1] See DHS/CBP-007 Border Crossing Information, 81 FR 4040.

"All photos are directly sent over a secure network connection. SITA's technology securely transmits the photo directly to the CBP database. No additional parties have access to sensitive information."

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