NROP: Airport automation – a matter of convenience or surveillance?

There was a time when people could accompany you to the entrance of the plane before having to turn around and leave. The 9/11 terror attack in New York had airports reinvent a bunch of processes that were not really thought about in the past. We no longer could help our elderly family members with their heavier carry-on luggage once they got into the security line. Nowadays, many airports no longer feature restaurants/bars before security check-points. We used to enjoy having one last beer before saying ‘Goodbye’ to someone we might not see for a very long time, but now we cannot do that. It might be because air travel has become such a ‘normal’ thing that people are no longer escorted to airports by their entire families. While I do not mind traveling alone, I feel for those who hate being away from their loved ones longer than they have to.

It is as if it happened overnight, but suddenly, you had to show your ticket and your passport to a million different people before you got on a plane. Even though I understand certain measures are being taken for our safety, it still does not keep me from getting annoyed at the fact that I have to pull out my documents more than a couple of times. Have you ever heard an announcement at the airport about someone leaving their belongings behind at the security check? Sometimes the moment a message about a scarf left behind stops playing, one about a forgotten laptop comes on. It makes me wonder if people ever leave their passports/tickets behind. They have to, right? Since you have to show your documents so many times, you begin to place them in an easily accessible place (like a back pocket). What happens then? You sit down, or take your phone out and the ticket falls out.

There was a time when, compared to an average citizen, I traveled quite a bit and I was up to date on all the rules and regulations. However, in recent years, those began to differ between airports. (Are we relaxing because we think we have done a good job stopping terrorists?) Some require you to take your shoes off, others do not. Same applies to electronic devices – “yes, you have to take them out,” vs. “no, you do not.” I had an item go through security without an issue at one airport and then had the same item confiscated at another airport (same country, different state).

Another place where I get confused is the entrance onto the plane. Sometimes you need your passport and your boarding pass, while, at other times, you will only need the latter. An employee of the airline stands in front of the exit and either checks your passport (AGAIN! for the fifth time) and/or scans your boarding pass. It shocked me a couple of years ago when I saw the employee standing there doing nothing as each passenger scanned their own pass. Scanning my own items at the grocery store (i.e. playing a cashier) lost its magic many years ago. Why have an employee if they do not do a single thing? I guess they are there to judge books by their covers. If some of their duties are being eliminated, why are we faced with rising airplane ticket fares?

If you traveled to the U.S.A. from outside of the country, you had to fill out a customs declaration before landing, which you would then present at the entry checkpoint. It was annoying because it required you to enter your name, date of birth, passport number (all of which are in your passport), as well as your address, a list of any potential items you will have to declare, and a few other things. It was yet another hurdle but learned how to deal with it. When e-passport became a thing, I could not be happier. Although I am not the biggest fan of phone apps, I jumped on it because I could fill out all the info as we drove to the gate/waited to be let out, snap a current photo of myself and then be on my merry way. The lines for people with electronic passports were much shorter and it was much more convenient to show border patrol your phone instead of your passport and a customs form. Convenient? Definitely. Although, I was not too keen on sharing a photo of me after a 12-hour+ journey.

When I landed in Sydney a few years back, I was greeted by automated gates instead of people. You stepped up to a specific place, smiled at the camera, and were then told to move towards your luggage pick-up area. No interactions with humans asking silly questions? Win! It was when my sibling walked through them without an issue and I was stopped by border patrol. I was not given a reason as to why I had to go through the manual process like at all of the other airports. Maybe they do this routinely to random people or maybe there is a criminal out there who looks like me. (If you would like to read more about SmartGates, take a look at this Australian website.

Dubai’s airport was already fancier back then. Fewer people, more machines. I found it to be quite relaxing because having to smile and greet so many airport employees on your journey can be rather draining for me (especially after having been in the air for 13 hours and still having plenty to go). This weekend, however, Dubai took another step into the future, putting iris scanners into use at the airport. The SmartGate I mentioned in Sydney compared a person’s biometrics stored on a chip implanted into their passport with what was presented at the airport with the use of facial recognition software. As demonstrated by me, those are not foolproof. That might be why Dubai decided to focus on our irises which are said to be even more secure than fingerprints.

“Every person’s eye has a colored ring around their pupil called the iris; and like a thumbprint, no two are exactly the same. Each one displays a special pattern that randomly develops while in utero and is therefore unique in its own way. This process is known as morphogenesis. Basically, the iris is essentially a muscle that controls the pupil’s size, serving to regulate how much light can penetrate the eye.”

John trader at m2sys.com

It is good to learn that contact lenses or glasses do not interfere with the iris scanners. While some surgeries might change your iris shape or color, the “texture” or pattern remain the same. Still, I wonder what if it did. Would you be detained for trying to pass as someone they think you are not? Probably. How would you prove that you are you? Medical records? I am not sure that your eye surgeon takes and keeps your old vs. new iris scans. Would that mean you would never be allowed to travel? Would you be thrown into prison?

One of my fellow bloggers recommended an Anime series to me entitled: “Psycho-Pass.” It is a fascinating show. Even before watching it I already thought of people stealing other people’s eyes, but this show takes it to a whole other level. As I read about the iris scanners I kept thinking about ocular transplants. How will that impact the software>

The coronavirus definitely had its hand in this program getting rolled out because the new measures enable a traveler to enter or exit the United Arab Emirates without having to interact with an airport employee. No need to exchange passports and/or tickets. That gets a plus from me. It is much better than having a foreign body implanted into us with our biometrics that we would need to scan every time. But… why? Once I started pondering about it, I realized that the iris scanners can lead to a future we might not necessarily like. We are already weary about all the street cameras and facial recognition being used every day. Yes, most of us probably do not think about it as much (if even aware) because there is not much we can do other than stay at home and go out into the boondocks when we want to go on a vacation.

The UK launched its iris scanners for specific travelers in 2004 (decommissioned in 2013), while Doha, a large airport in Qatar launched its iris project in 2011, but I have not heard of it until now. Does that mean that the technology might not be as beneficial as one might think or is it because Western countries are afraid of the infringement of privacy that such surveillance might bring?

  • What do you think of the iris scanners?
  • Have you encountered any weird measures at airports?
  • Do you have experience with facial or iris recognition software?

Stay golden,

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30 thoughts on “NROP: Airport automation – a matter of convenience or surveillance?

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  1. Two factor auth: what you know and what you have.
    Maybe there’s a three factor variant? Knowledge, possession and reaction? Show them a photo and measure their biometric reaction? Make them taste or smell something?
    DNA scanning will no doubt be something in the future, too.

    Here’s a weird one: NFT Non-Fungible Tokens verified and stored in a blockchain. Maybe your identity will be best represented by a unique sequence of events recorded in a blockchain.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re definitely onto something with the reaction biometric and DNA scanning. Maybe we will all have to take polygraphs before boarding a plane?

      I thought of that, too (NFT, even though I didn’t know there’s a name for that), but it just made me think of SSN. What’s the difference? We protect it and don’t share it with others but they still get stolen….

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I don’t know about the eye scanner, but they did manage to go around it in a Bond movie. I had several annoying experiences at airports. Had to abandon a fake knife I won at a fair. Had to watch while they ruined a wrapped birthday gift of a board game. Had to be groped because the buttons on my sweater set off an alarm 🙄🙄🙄

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I have a new word: morphogenesis! So cool. And annoying because it’s exactly the kind of things I’d share on social media except I’m taking a week off. So.

    I don’t know about iris scanners. Like most, I invariably imagine nasty things happening with knives. I am fond of the e-passports though. I felt quite smug pushing through ahead of most my last trip to Vegas while my travelling companions stripped off their shoes and proved they weren’t evil.

    My dad says when he is emperor, he is going to go after consistency. The lack thereof in systems annoys him. And me, and you, and most. It’s so frustrating to have “yes” here but “no” there.

    I’m not sure how universal they are: at the airport here and several others across Canada they have the silhouette scanners that basically make you seem naked for the airport at large. Charming. Plus, I always forget no metal and once had to shuffle through with pants sliding off because the belt had to go and they would let me hold them while I went through the scanner. Was I wide-legged 😂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad I was able to help with the word, even if it is on your social media week off. Feel free to share it next week (if you still remember ;))

      Hmmm… I didn’t know there was such a difference between e-passports and not. You didn’t have to strip? The paragraph made me laugh. You were probably the most evil of them all, huh?

      I will support your dad, then!

      Yes, they seem to have the old-school frame gates AND the silhouette ones here. Of course, I’m always chosen to go through the rotating one that, like you say, makes me appear naked and probably poisons me with some sort of waves. Fantastic.

      LOL. You should take some pants wearing lessons from some of the youth with half their bottom on display as they run across the street. That takes SKILL!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 1) Minority Report also has a pretty great subplot which involves iris scanners. 2) I just read “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden. I promise you that that book will freak you the hell out. It also delves into another of your favorite topics, cancels culture. So yeah, read Snowden.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the recommendation.
      I find it interesting how certain things from sci-fi movies are turning into reality yet others (teleportation, flying cars) are nowhere near our reality. I wonder who picks and chooses what research and development focus on.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yikes. I feel like I’m still stuck in the 20th century. I was freaked out the night I posted a bunch of pictures of myself at the wedding of a former student with various old friends I hadn’t seen in years, plus other former students who had gone from squirrelly middle schoolers to adults. With no added captions, Facebook had them all “tagged” within seconds. 😳 Scary stuff, if you ask me.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very insightful (pardon the pun).. I personally do not like the trend of iris scanning…it is much too soon to know what damage can be inflicted from being scanned or injected. We are a commodity…at what price convenience….. ? Hmmm…you raise some important issues….enjoy reading your posts!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. […] why are we faced with rising airplane ticket fares?

    I think that the explanation for that is ‘market forces’, combined with the old adage ‘never give a sucker an even break’. But it’s not so much the price of an airplane ticket that puts me off flying; one big detraction is the impolite and unhealthy way they stack the seats as close together as possible to squeeze as many exorbitant fees§ as they can. I’m just a regular Joe: I’m not one of the elite who can afford a comfy first class ticket. Nor am I a hobbit.

    As for iris recognition systems, the only problem I have is the usual concern about with whom the data is shared — ‘all and sundry’ is my best guess, as that seems to be the norm these days. And I have no doubt that some flawed research study (retracted soon after, though as usual the retraction will not undo the damage) will one day ‘prove’ that possession of a certain iris configuration makes one more prone to [insert medical condition or personal idiosyncrasy here] and I’ll be bombarded forever after with adverts for haemorrhoid products or hauled off to some gulag as a potential insurgent.

    § Arguably, those fees are not high enough, given the environmental impact of flying. A single long flight can wipe out an entire year’s worth of other carbon footprint savings one might make. I made a decision many years ago never to fly again (and have stuck to it, with one exception where I had no choice due to a skiing accident).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The cramped spaces annoy me, too! And absolutely – they charge so much because they can! While I appreciate the “cheap” airlines at times (they have their uses), I refuse to fly with those that are blatantly greedy without even trying to give off the appearance of caring.

      Ah, the targeted ads… They never stop…

      Kudos to you to actually holding to your promise. If I didn’t have family and friends on various continents, I might be inclined to follow suit. Many complain about how terrible it is for our world but then they go off private jetting every other day (celebrities). Ehhh

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You can be against all this advanced technology, but it’s useless. Us, regelar people, have no say in this. I am pretty sure the secret forces already have pretty much all data of you and me.
    Does that bother me?
    I doubt I am significant or ever will be, so I am too worried.

    I used to be excited to be at the airport, watching people and stuff. But now I know it’s all very exhausting. I prefer to take the car and go on a roadtrip these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s absolutely true; we are under surveillance routinely and there is not much we can do. However, I do like to at least try and put up a fight.

      That’s actually why I like travelling alone through airports – I get there way ahead of time so I can find a spot that isn’t crowded and then do my thing (until someone on speaker phone or a noisy kid sits down right next to me…).

      Like

  9. My 2019 trip introduced me to facial recognition systems and whatnot for the first time and I don’t mind it. I’m not one to want TOO many interactions with others during such a stressful transition from one country to another but it’s definitely sad to see things become much more automated!

    Liked by 2 people

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Cathleen Townsend

Faerie Tales and Fantasy Worlds

Mark-Huntley-James

writing science-fiction and fantasy since tomorrow

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