The travel industry is on the verge of the tech revolution. The coronavirus pandemic only accelerated the process. However, these changes are as worrisome as they are marvelous as they threaten our privacy. Facial recognition, apps, and smart products can make both air transit and border crossings more convenient. Furthermore, their skip-the-line and touch-free elements may help keep people safer from viruses.
However, there are some drawbacks. Such innovation involves risks, especially to our security. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently posted a photo of his Qantas Airlines boarding pass on his Instagram account. A hacker scanned the coding and managed to obtain the ex-PM’s passport number. Cyber sneaks are all too eager to use their HTML-scanning, database-mining skills for private purposes, which are seldom honorable.
Fortunately, in Abbott’s case, the hacker exposed security flaws in a ploy to discourage other people from publishing their boarding passes or sensitive documents online. The airline upgraded security protocols, but the damage was already done.
Still, the changes are unavoidable, and the facial recognition tech is on the top of the list among some other features. Singapore recently declared that it would be the first country in the world to use facial recognition on government-issued IDs, beginning from this month. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security thinks it will be using facial recognition on 97 percent of travelers by 2023.
How did the Covid-19 influence travel industry’s Tech Revolution?
The pandemic has created new technology, along with concerns about its ramifications. For example, in some countries, visitors must download contact-tracing apps or wear a GPS tracker.
It seems tracking and tracing will be the price of traveling until the pandemic ends. The most secure contact-tracing apps use Bluetooth. They also don’t auto-upload info to a central database. Despite that, in June, Amnesty International called out Kuwait, Norway, and Bahrain for overly invasive apps that made personal info vulnerable to hackers.
Furthermore, the ramifications of facial recognition programs for travelers are still unclear. At U.S. airports, passengers can refuse biometric identification at customs and other checkpoints; they’ll have to ask. It could flag them for further screening or make it look like they have something to hide, though, so it might be easier to just go with the flow.
Still, while it’s disconcerting for your face to become your only pass in airports or hotels, this doesn’t seem any more invasive than other ways technology uses photos, tracking our movements and interests.
Vinny Troia, the CEO of risk-assessment firm Night Lion Security, pointed out that Google Images is already doing a great job recognizing people from their online photos. Facebook also automatically does a facial recognition search when users upload photos, then suggests tagging the people it detects in each image.
There are also bigger threats than facial scans include someone using travel technology to hack into your credit cards, bank accounts, or to steal your identity.
Travelers are often in unfamiliar places; thus, they are more likely to be victims of both physical theft or cyberattacks. To avoid that, Paul Lipman, CEO at cybersecurity company BullGuard, recommends using devices that contain only the data you would need for that trip.