Iris scanners will replace passports at Dubai Airport

DUbai Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, can already seem surreal, with its cavernous duty-free shops, artificial palm trees, glittering terminals, cascading waterfalls and air-conditioning levels close to the sea. ‘Arctic.

Today, the main east-west transit hub is rolling out another addition to the realm of sci-fi: an iris scanner that verifies identity and eliminates the need for any human interaction during entry or exit. leaving the country.

It’s the latest artificial intelligence program the UAE has launched amid the growing coronavirus pandemic – a contactless technology the government is promoting as helping to stem the spread of the virus. But the efforts also renewed questions about mass surveillance in the Federation of Seven Sheikhs, which experts say has one of the highest concentrations of surveillance cameras per capita in the world.

Dubai Airport started offering the program to all passengers last month. On Sunday, travelers walked up to an iris scanner after check-in, took a good look at it, and passed passport control within seconds. Gone are the days of paper tickets or cumbersome phone applications.

In recent years, airports around the world have accelerated their use of time-saving facial recognition technology to move passengers to their flights. But Dubai’s iris analysis improves on more common automated doors seen elsewhere, authorities said, by connecting iris data to the country’s facial recognition databases so the passenger does not need to ‘no identification document or boarding pass. The unusual partnership between long-haul carrier Emirates, owned by a Dubai sovereign wealth fund, and the Dubai immigration office integrates data and transports travelers from check-in to boarding in one fell swoop, have they added.

“The future is coming,” said Major General Obaid Mehayer Bin Suroor, deputy director of the Residence and Foreign Affairs Branch. “Now all the procedures have gotten ‘smart’, about five to six seconds.”

But like all facial recognition technologies, the program adds to fears of loss of privacy in the country, which has been the subject of international criticism for targeting journalists and human rights activists.

According to Emirates Biometric Privacy Statement, the airline associates the faces of passengers with other personally identifying data, including passport and flight information, retaining them “as long as is reasonably necessary for the purposes for which it was collected”. The deal offered few details on how the data will be used and stored, beyond saying that while the company did not make copies of passengers’ faces, other personal data “may be processed in other Emirates systems “.

Bin Suroor pointed out that the Dubai Immigration Office “completely protects” the personal data of passengers so that “no third party can see it”.

Without more information on how the data will be used or stored, biometric technology raises the possibility of misuse, experts say.

“Any kind of surveillance technology raises red flags, no matter what type of country it is in,” said Jonathan Frankle, a doctoral student in artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But in a democratic country, if surveillance technology is used transparently, there is at least an opportunity to have a public conversation about it.”

Iris scans, forcing people to look into a camera as if offering a fingerprint, have become more prevalent around the world in recent years as questions have arisen about the accuracy of facial recognition technology. Iris biometrics are considered more reliable than surveillance cameras that scan people’s faces remotely without their knowledge or consent.

Despite concerns over excessive surveillance in the UAE, the country’s extensive facial recognition network shows only signs of expansion. Last month, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, announced that the country would start testing new facial recognition technology to cut red tape in “some private sector departments.” , without further details.

During the pandemic, the city of Dubai, dotted with skyscrapers, has advanced a range of technological tools to fight the virus in malls and on the streets, including disinfectant foggers, thermal cameras and face scans that check masks and take temperatures. The programs also use cameras capable of recording and downloading people’s data, potentially feeding the information into the city-state’s larger biometric databases.

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