Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Passengers at LAX using biometric boarding.

Passengers at LAX using biometric boarding. (Photo: Finnair Twitter)

'So Overboard It Should Be Illegal': Use of Facial Recognition in Airports Draws Anger

"It's actually the U.S. government that's implementing the biometric matching system that does all the hard analysis and crunching of the data."

Eoin Higgins

A boarding technology for travelers using JetBlue is causing controversy due to a social media thread on the airline's use of facial recognition. 

Last week, traveler MacKenzie Fegan described her experience with the biometric technology in a social media post that got the attention of JetBlue's official Twitter account. 

In the exchange, which went viral, Fegan expressed her concern over the lack of communication from the airline about the technology and the lack of consent. 

"Instead of scanning my boarding pass or handing over my passport, I looked into a camera before being allowed down the jet bridge," said Fegan. "Did facial recognition replace boarding passes, unbeknownst to me? Did I consent to this?"

"You're able to opt out of this procedure, MacKenzie," said JetBlue's account. "Sorry if this made you feel uncomfortable."

The airline rolled out the new technology at airports in Boston, Atlanta, New York, and Washington, D.C. in April 2017 and officially implemented facial recognition boarding in November at New York's JFK Airport in November 2018.

JetBlue is relying on help from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as Sean Farrell, the portfolio director for government solutions at SITA, the company running the technology, explained in 2017.

"We're basically capturing that picture at the boarding gate, providing it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection," said Farrell. "They're identifying the traveler."

"It's actually the U.S. government that's implementing the biometric matching system that does all the hard analysis and crunching of the data," Farrell added.

Biometric data functioning as a boarding pass is a technology being rolled out around the world as well—at airports in Europe, Asia, and expanding in America. 

"The improvement to security and the passenger experience are tremendously positive," said SITA's Sergio Colella, the company's president for Europe. "It explains the growing interest in this solution from both airlines and airports in Europe and around the world."

Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Program, said that the use of biometric data technology for boarding planes was a misuse of a very powerful tool. 

"Honestly, using face surveillance in place of tickets in the boarding process is like flooding your entire block to water your garden," said Crockford. "It might accomplish the goal, but it hurts you and everyone else in the process."

"It's so overboard it should be illegal," Crockford added. "Literally."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

As Gov. Tim Walz Proclaims 'Minnesota Climate Week,' Ilhan Omar Says 'Stop Line 3'

"The state of Minnesota simply cannot meet our carbon reduction targets if this pipeline goes through," said the Democratic congresswoman. "Our future is on the line."

Kenny Stancil ·


Avi Lewis Hoping Canadians' Climate Concerns Deliver Electoral 'Upset of Epic Proportions'

"We need to send Avi to Ottawa to shake up the entire political establishment, including his own party, and tip the scales in favor of people and the planet," said environmentalist David Suzuki.

Brett Wilkins ·


Sanders Denounces a Pentagon Budget System Found 'Inherently Susceptible to Fraud'

"They don't seem to want to get serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively," said the Vermont senator, declaring it "absolutely unacceptable."

Andrea Germanos ·


Campaigners to Biden: Stop Acting Like a Big Pharma 'Puppet' and Help Vaccinate the World

"Status quo protection of the intellectual property rights of profiteering pharmaceutical companies will not save us from this pandemic."

Jake Johnson ·


'An Atrocity': Poor Go Without as Rich Nations Set to Let 100 Million Covid Vaccines Rot

"Poorer countries shouldn't have to wait until our doses are about to expire to vaccinate their populations."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo