Seattle Airport Opts Out of Facial Recognition

An Alaska Airlines plane comes in for a landing as another taxis for takeoff at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Jan. 16, 2009.
An Alaska Airlines plane comes in for a landing as another taxis for takeoff at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Jan. 16, 2009.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

SEATTLE (AP) — At least for now, controversial facial-recognition technology won’t be installed at boarding gates at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The decision makes the airport the first in the country to resist the rollout of a federal biometric identification program.

The Seattle Times reports the Port of Seattle Commission unanimously approved a moratorium on some uses of the technology after hours of impassioned public comment Tuesday, much of it from people calling facial recognition intrusive and dangerous.

The five-member commission, which oversees Sea-Tac, suspended the introduction of some new biometric technologies — including facial recognition — until the commission adopts “tangible, enforceable” policies to govern their use.

The commission’s vote halts plans by Delta Air Lines to roll out facial-recognition cameras at its Sea-Tac boarding gates by year-end.

The moratorium, though, applies only to areas the Port controls. Nor does the suspension apply to biometric technologies used solely by Port staff — for example, fingerprints used to access secure areas.

That means a Custom and Border Protection plan to install facial-recognition cameras at a new facility to process arriving international travelers, opening July 2020, will proceed as planned: The part of that building where the cameras will be located is controlled by the federal government.

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