Delta Airlines announced today that it’s rolling out biometric entry at its line of airport lounges. With the press of two fingers, Delta members will be able to enter any of Delta’s 50 exclusive lounges for drinks, comfortably unaware of the encroaching dystopian biometric surveillance structure closing around travel.
Thanks to a partnership with Clear, a biometrics company offering a “frictionless travel experience”, privileged jet-setters can use their fingerprints to enter Delta Sky Clubs. The Sky Club, as one might imagine, is Delta’s line of airport lounges loaded with drinks, magazines, Wi-Fi and snacks. Entry to the Sky Club is $US59 ($76) a visit or $US495 ($641) a year – a small price to pay for a respite from the unwashed masses. The fingerprint scans, however, are completely free.
Scanning the fingerprints of airport loungers isn’t Clear’s only endeavour. For an annual fee of $US180 ($233), Clear members are spirited away from lengthy security lines and pat-downs and instead verify their identity in self-serve kiosks that match their irises and fingerprints against stored biometric data Clear keeps on file.
As Delta’s press release notes, biometrics are surging in airports across the globe. Travellers hate long lines, invasive scanning and crowded waiting areas, so Clear, Delta and other airports have packaged biometric scanning as luxuriant, exclusive and, above all else, extremely convenient. Anyone would be seduced by the opportunity to turn the hours-long slog of airport security into something breezy and painless.
But this veneer of comfort masks that biometrics are a form of surveillance hotly contested by privacy and civil liberties experts. For example, face recognition in airports is consistently less accurate on women and people of colour, yet are asymmetrically applied against them as they travel. Clear uses finger and iris data, but Delta was America’s first to use face recognition to verify passports, again via autonomised self-service kiosks.
At a time when people should be more wary of biometrics, airports are carefully rebranding surveillance as a luxury item. But, as people become more comfortable with being poked, prodded, fingerprinted and scanned as they travel, privacy is becoming a fast-evaporating luxury.