Passports | Facial recognition

The time-honoured travel tradition of leaving the house and checking if you have your passport, arriving at the airport and checking if you have your passport, waiting at the gate and checking if you have your passport, standing at immigration with your passport in your hand and periodically checking that yes, you have your passport, may become a thing of the past with facial recognition.

Saint Jerome, priest, noted theologian and historian, wrote in the 4th century that ‘the face is the mirror of the mind and eyes, without speaking, confesses the secrets of the heart.’

Whilst that’s all very poetic etc, etc, I’m not sure that I want my innermost thoughts exposed, as the technology of biometrics starts to roll out for travellers in airports.

Fewer humans, higher security

If you are a frequent traveller, then you will probably be first to notice that immigration officers at airports are becoming conspicuous by their apparent absence. Don’t get the idea that you aren’t being monitored when you get off that plane – because you are in a very detailed and meticulous way – and smart camera technologies are now supported by facial recognition systems that soon will replace the most ubiquitous of all travel necessities: your passport. 

Most mugshots look better than your passport photo

Passports can be a nuisance; a 10-year-issue passport was only lasting 3 years for me. Pages got stamped and visa entries for some countries took up precious space in the 26 blank pages, especially if the passport had to be sent away to a consulate that demands two opposite and empty pages to be available.

Getting a new passport issued is often inconvenient, but worse than that is the depressing and questionable issue of posing for the camera. I don’t consider myself a particularly vain person but after all the passports that I’ve had over the years surely I should actually have been happy with at least one of the photos that were taken? But no, I’m like many others who look at their passport, do a double-take and say, ‘that’s such a bad pic – there’s no way they’ll let me in their country- I don’t look like that, do I?’ 

In theory, biometric technology takes away all that kerfuffle. Your face will become your travel identity and will see you through check-in and bag drop off procedures, exit and entry immigration points; and as the technology is so smart there will be no need for a boarding pass. It might also be the technology that gets you into the first-class lounge prior to take off, though that still depends on what you’re prepared to pay for your flight! 

Pilot project

Pilot projects (forgive the pun) on biometrics at airports are in use and apparently working in some American cities and in Australia too. Once the results show the robustness and reliability of biometric technology, then one of the benefits will be a decrease in the time spent processing people at immigration – which is always one of the choke-points at airports. 

Machinery with facial recognition technology at airports are also key to strengthening security across international borders. Passport falsification has become harder as print technologies incorporate better security features, however, the possibility of fraudulent travel documents being manufactured is possible. Replacing your face however – that takes some doing. If the companies and governments behind the technology can guarantee that the IT infrastructure and databases are robust, then biometrics looks like a great idea for the travelling community.

Face in a jar by the door

I’ve never missed a flight because I’ve lost my passport, but it’s nigh on impossible that I’m going to check out of the hotel without remembering my own head! However, I must confess that after a heavy night of drinking the last thing I would want to do is get on an early morning flight feeling like I was still off my face! Here’s to the future and hoping the technology is smart enough to see through the bloodshot eyes and green gills. 

New look? You might need a new passport