Last week, when I got back to JFK after my Israel trip, I was kind of dreading going through
customs – and not because I was carrying contraband. Last time I went through border control, I spent what felt
like forty five minutes (after a twelve hour flight, no less) waiting to go to the bathroom and grab my luggage and
scram. However, this time around, I saw something which piqued my interest, and somewhat reminded me of my earlier
Although there was a line of people waiting for real-live humans to clear them through border control, there was also
two rows of kiosks with webcams, passport scanners, and touch screens:
These neat little self-service machines, apparently originally provided by
Global Entry for expedited reentry of frequent fliers, were
(at least at that time)
being used en masse to speed all US passport holders through border control. And it was so quick! There were over a
dozen of the little machines in addition to the handful of personnel working at the traditional desk, easily tripling
the throughput without requiring any additional manpower! I got a little bit excited seeing that.
If you look at the top of the device in the above image, you’ll notice a hole for the webcam. As part of the process, it
takes a picture of you and requests that you line yourself up, head and shoulders, within the frame. Although I’m not
entirely sure it’s doing facial recognition (maybe it’s just taking a picture to reference against the passport), it’s
still rather impressive, and more than a little scary.
Considering last year’s revelations about the pervasiveness of data-collection and storage of American citizens’ data,
both from cell phone metadata and
covertly obtained from Internet technology giants, I
wouldn’t be too surprised if something similar is going on here. To be fair, this is probably the one sphere where the
US has every right to collect data. If you’re crossing borders, it is a legitimate concern of the government.
Nevertheless, a world where everything can be so easily recorded and analyzed is quite scary. It’s a brave new world…