Port of Seattle Adopts Biometrics at SeaTac Airport

The Port of Seattle has become the first port in the United States to adopt new guidelines for the possibility of the use of facial recognition technology – biometrics – at SeaTac Airport. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently notified the Port of Seattle that it agrees to the Port’s principles and will follow them in federal implementation of facial recognition technology at Port facilities.

Port commissioners held two study sessions in September and October involving several stakeholders – including immigrant rights groups, federal agencies, and airline officials. The sessions looked at how private companies use facial recognition technology, security and privacy concerns, and the federal implementation of biometrics. The commissioners also formed a working group to use the guidelines and create actual facial recognition policy. Their report is expected to be completed by March of next year, and the Port is expected to officially adopt policies in June.

“We know of more than 20 other airports that have implemented facial recognition technology, but no other Port has undergone a public process to ensure that implementation would protect passenger rights, and be limited, transparent, and ethical,” said Port of Seattle commission president, Stephanie Bowman. “We feel that our community expects more than to have this kind of technology rolled out without any public discussion or input. When this Commission adopts policies in 2020 we will have and have the opportunity to create the nation’s best practices for public-facing biometrics.”

According to the principles adopted by the Port Commission, the use of biometrics in Port facilities must be the following:

  • Justified – biometrics should be used only for a clear and intended purpose and not for surveillance on large groups without a lawful purpose;
  • Voluntary – reasonable alternatives should be provided for United States citizens who do not wish to participate through an opt-in or opt-out process;
  • Private – data should be stored for no longer than required by applicable law or regulations and should be protected against unauthorized use or access;
  • Equitable – the technology should be reasonably accurate in identifying people of all backgrounds, and systems should be in place to treat mismatching issues;
  • Transparent – use of biometrics should be communicated to visitors and travelers;
  • Lawful – use of biometrics should comply with all laws, including privacy laws and laws prohibiting discrimination; and,
  • Ethical – port staff and partners should act ethically when deploying technology or handling biometric data.