Facial Recognition Comes to the Cruise Industry

Passengers using IDEMIA's MFace facial-recognition security system at Changi Airport, Singapore (IDEMIA)

By The Maritime Executive 04-18-2019 06:56:29

Facial recognition technology has made major advancements in recent years, and it's finding new applications everywhere, from law enforcement to domestic intelligence to retail. It is also gaining traction in the cruise sector: the near-instantaneous speed and high accuracy of facial recognition are advantageous for cruise terminals, where customs officials have to verify the identity of thousands of people each day during boarding and disembarkation.

Over the past two years, technology company IDEMIA has worked with Royal Caribbean and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to test biometric identity verification for CBP's processes at terminals in Miami, Florida and Cape Liberty, New Jersey. IDEMIA says that MFace compares the facial identities of passengers disembarking with the identities of passengers who boarded, matching against images in CBP's Traveler Verification Service (TVS). TVS is a CBP-operated, cloud-based service that receives, temporarily stores and identifies passenger photos. 

The initial tests are now complete, the company announced this month, and IDEMIA's MFace 3D face capture technology is entering into commercial use at these two sites. RCCL says that it is also available at Port Canaveral for passengers on Enchantment of the Seas, and it will be part of the operations at the future RCCL terminal in Galveston as well. 

IDEMIA has already worked with CBP to test the same technology for international air travel. This process, called "biometric exit," involves taking a photo of each passenger upon their arrival at a U.S. airport and comparing it with a photo of them when they leave. It is intended to ensure that each individual who arrives at an American airport the United States is the same as the person who departs on the same itinerary. U.S. citizens can request an alternative document inspection instead. 

While facial recognition can accelerate security checks, it raises concerns for privacy advocates, who point to the technology's potential for abuse. In Xinjiang province, where the Chinese government is running an active campaign to suppress civil unrest, state video cameras and facial recognition tracking are well-documented and ubiquitous. Members of the general public can replicate the same concept (on a smaller scale) using readily-available software tools, as recently demonstrated by the New York Times. In a test, a team of Times reporters put together a tracking system with public webcams, publicly-available ID photos, and Amazon's off-the-shelf facial recognition software, then used it to identify passersby in New York's Bryant Park - all legally, and all on a budget of less than $100. 

IDEMIA says that it has addressed privacy concerns carefully in its systems for RCCL. No passenger images are stored by Royal Caribbean, CBP or IDEMIA after the trip is completed to ensure that privacy is maintained.