Port of Seattle establishes guidelines for facial recognition technology at airport

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SEATTLE - The Port of Seattle approved new guidelines for the possibility of facial recognition technology, or biometrics use, at Sea-Tac Airport.

The guidelines come after 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 used facial recognition technology, security and privacy concerns, and the federal implementation of biometrics.

Port commissioners also formed a working group. Their primary role is 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.

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. Reports on the performance and effectiveness of the technology should also be made public to ensure accountability.
  • Ethical - Port staff and partners should act ethically when deploying technology or handling biometric data.

Commissioners plan to formally adopt facial recognition policies by June 30, 2020.

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