Opt Out of Airport Facial Recognition?

Opt Out of Airport Facial Recognition


Can You Opt Out of Facial Recognition at Airports? Facial recognition use at major U.S. airports is increasing, and CBP hopes to expand it to the top 20 U.S. airports by the end of 2021. For many travelers, if it speeds up their check-in and boarding process, it's a boon. For others who are more circumspect about their privacy, it's not a welcome development.

Currently U.S. Citizens Can Opt Out

Foreign nationals currently are photographed at entry and exit, and there are no plans to change that requirement or provide an opt out. These photos are retained by the Department of Homeland Security for 75 years.

For the airlines, such as Delta, JetBlue, American Airlines, etc. that have already partnered with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to use facial recognition on travelers, they are not permitted to keep the photos they take of travelers in conjunction with checking passengers identity; CBP keeps photos of U.S. travelers for 12 hours before purging them. U.S. citizens can opt out of having their photograph taken, although signage advising the option to opt out isn't always conspicuous. A journalist flying JetBlue earlier this year had an exchange with JetBlue that went viral, questioning why the ability to opt out wasn't made clearer:

JetBlue Facial Recognition at Airport-Opt Out

Since facial recognition doesn't work perfectly, particularly on darker skinned individuals and women, there still has to be the option of a manual check of your passport and boarding pass, which is what you should get if you choose to opt out entirely of facial recognition.

DHS Wanted to Make Facial Recognition Mandatory for U.S. Citizens

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed rule change that would have expanded mandatory facial recognition to U.S. citizens, bolding mine:

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required by statute to develop and implement a biometric entry-exit data system. To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition and to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists, DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure.

Fortunately, given the backlash from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and travelers, Homeland Security retracted its proposed rule change.

Other Airports Also Defaulting to Facial Recognition

Other airports are also rolling out facial recognition. Earlier this year, a passenger at Hong Kong Airport also encountered facial recognition as the default, although in the end was able to opt out of having facial recognition used on him.

It's less likely that you'll be able to opt out of facial recognition at Chinese airports, such as the new Beijing Daxing, given that in many cases you need to submit to facial recognition for more prosaic things such as getting a Chinese SIM card.


Have you ever been unable to opt out of facial recognition at an airport? If so, at which airport?

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