Biometric scanners could be coming to an airport near you

| June 27, 2014

Looking to avoid crowds and speed up the screening process when you travel by plane? If you’re willing to provide certain personal information — and pay an annual fee — you can now put biometric scanners to work for you at several airports across the U.S.

The technology is already in place in San Francisco and San Jose, California, as well as Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, Texas. McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, is the latest to offer the service, through a CLEAR company kiosk. And how it works is a lot like the future you may have imagined as a child (if you grew up before anyone you knew you would one day own a personal computer, that is, back when people called the Internet the “World Wide Web”).


CLEAR kiosks. From Gokis.

According to the LA Times, Clear members, who pay $179 per year for the service, don’t need to wait on long lines to show passports and driver’s licenses before boarding a plane. (How old-fashioned!) Instead, they’re identified by their fingerprints and their irises. That’s right — the pigmented portion of the eye that determines eye color is used as ID. Just like no two person’s fingerprints are identical, there’s no match for an individual’s irises either. Getting beyond the convenience factor, this kind of biometric scanning is a pretty foolproof method of ensuring people are who they say they are when they travel by air.

The CLEAR company’s video about the process makes it all seem very simple and even routine, downplaying the incredible technology at work. It’s not as if biometric scanning is really so unusual these days. Some apartment buildings in New York City have biometric readers outside to allow only residents in. Six Flags even offers a biometric season pass.

Still, this is the stuff of science fiction brought to life. So naturally, there’s a tendency to consider the possible problems that could arise.

In Florida, legislators are concerned about the government collecting biometric information from schoolchildren. There’s a move to ban biometric scanners in schools. Movies, of course, offer plenty more reasons to remain skeptical about this type of technology. Didn’t Tom Cruise’s character have some kind of eye operation to outwit scanners in “Minority Report?” And wasn’t there a movie where a guy cut off another guy’s finger to scan his way through security?

Grisly and otherwise undesirable outcomes aside, however, biometric scanning technology is here to stay, with positive results just as likely. The future, it seems, is now.

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