AirAsia’s facial recognition system: Convenience or concern?

Will travelers, particularly the first-time and non-frequent foreign visitors, have reservations about this? Source: Shutterstock.

AIRASIA has launched Faces, or the Fast Airport Clearance Experience System, which will utilize facial recognition technology to allow passengers to board their flights faster.

The new feature was unveiled at Senai International Airport in Johor Bahru, Malaysia on Feb 5, 2018. It also marks the first Malaysian airport to use a facial recognition system.

Faces identifies enrolled guests as they approach the boarding gate, allowing them to board their flight without having to present any travel documents. AirAsia claims that Faces has an 80 percent identification success rate and will reduce the boarding process to between nine and 10 minutes, from 11 to 13 minutes on an average procedure.

Travelers simply need to enrol at kiosks located at the check-in area in Senai International Airport with their MyKad (Malaysian identity card) or chip-enabled passport to create their biometric token. Registered travelers are identified as they approach the auto boarding gate and will be allowed to board their flight directly.

The enrolment is a one-time process until the identity document expires, after which travelers will need to register again. MyKad registrations allow for domestic travel only whereas passport registrations allow for both domestic and international travel. Foreigners with valid passports will also be able to use the feature.

However, it currently only works for guests aged 18 and above, with a height of 145 to 190cm. Passengers below the age, or passengers traveling with infants, or those requiring additional assistance will still need to go through the standard screening and boarding process. Also, Faces does not include immigration and border processing, or replace security screening.

Amidst reports about data breaches in the country, data integrity and security has become a growing concern.

“I’d be concerned – facial recognition system run in an airline that has a bug in its simple booking system that results in wrong destination! And then offer poor customer service. OMG,” wrote Facebook user Jeremy Wadley.

A passport’s RFID chip can store quite a lot of data. For Europeans, the passport holds all information about the holder e.g. name, date of birth, photo, fingerprints. The UK passport has a chip that includes a “facial biometric” – digitised map of the holder’s face, with various features such as the distance between their eyes, nose and mouth digitally coded. For US citizens, their passports contain a reference code to a file the government keeps on the holder, that agents can access at passport control.

The same could be said for the MyKad, which contains information on the cardholder’s driver’s license and fingerprint minutiae. Fingerprints, especially thumbprints, are tied to other security information for financial institutions such as banks or the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).

Moreover, since the system is still in its infancy stage in Malaysia, first-time and non-frequent foreign visitors to Senai International Airport could have some reservations about having their personal information stored.

Source: Shutterstock.

That having said, the Malaysian Immigration Department is keeping a close watch on AirAsia’s Faces implementation. Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed has cautioned all companies to ensure that any personal data obtained through these services is not leaked to other parties.