One of the main reasons that Americans hate to fly is the Transporation Security Administration (TSA). Not only is it annoying to have to strip down at security checkpoints, submit to the occasional patdown and stand in long lines to verify our identities, but the entire system is inefficient. So what happens if we take humans off of those jobs and use machines instead? Several European airports are looking to answer that question by installing eye and face scanners, along with fingerprint readers, at security checkpoints.
Many airports’ immigration checks have used these measures, but the idea of using biometric technology at security checkpoints is still relatively new. The move would take humans out of the equation and let machines, which don’t succumb to things like getting tired on the job, take care of ID’ing flyers instead. Airline industry officials believe this automation will make air travel better, keep flyers happier and make security more efficient. And obviously, using biometrics could also save the industry a lot of money.
So how does a biometric security checkpoint work? London’s Gatwick airport, which performed a trial earlier this year, started by getting rid of boarding passes altogether. Eye scans verified fliers, allowing security cameras to identify them not only for the security checkpoint, but also for their boarding gate. Next year, London’s Heathrow airport and Amsterdown’s Airport Schiphol will start using a new baggage-screening technology that will take humans entirely out of the process. According to experts, these new machines use algorithms that are more likely to find explosives than a human.
As you can imagine, this idea of replacing man with machine isn’t going well with some. Some would argue that a machine can’t identify things like behavioral patterns and that such machines are predictable, meaning that terrorists could outwit them. Others believe this unlikely as biometrics is harder to fake than a boarding pass. The naysayers also can’t argue with the statistics: when Amsterdam Schiphol tested its facial recognition scanners, the machines were right 98 percent of the time and only allowed 1 out of 1,000 false identities through the system. No numbers are available for similar human statistics, but these numbers are impressive.
More than likely, though, no TSA jobs will be lost when these systems go live in U.S. airports. Industry officials expect that using biometrics at security checkpoints will free up TSA agents to focus their time and abilities on watching for suspicious behaviors. Needless to say, these new measures will speed up getting through airport security, and that makes this technology, along with faster carry on luggage screeners, a very good thing.