When your eyes become your passport

Passengers at Dubai Airport can now pass through passport control simply by squinting into an iris scanner. Which is linked to an extensive database of facial recognition data. That reports the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

Get rid of the long queues at customs, get rid of paper tickets or QR codes. The system allows you to fly through airport security at lightning speed. However, it also fits in with the trend of governments collecting more and more identification data about citizens, often without their approval or knowledge.

Giant database

The protocol was created because of the pandemic: the UAE government promoted the use of “contactless technology” to contain the spread of the virus.

The iris scanner is linked to the country’s facial recognition data databases, so the passenger no longer needs identification documents or boarding pass. A remarkable partnership between the private airline Emirates and the Dubai immigration office is integrating passenger data, enabling virtually anyone to go from check-in to boarding.

Experts say the technology can also be used to quickly and contactlessly check travelers’ vaccination status once international travel resumes when the pandemic fades.

What about privacy?

Even at the outset of the pandemic, experts predicted that a long-term effect would be greater adoption of digital personal identification systems. This means that more vigilance is also required.

In the case of the UAE, there is “no civil liberties protection, because there are no civil liberties,” UAE expert Jodi Vittori of Carnegie Endowment think tank told AP.

The Federation of Emirates is estimated to have the highest number of surveillance cameras in the world per capita. Coupled with powerful artificial intelligence tools, the government can track almost anyone in public – even in taxis. The country is widely criticized internationally for using that mass surveillance system to target journalists and human rights activists.

Despite the criticism, the facial recognition network in the UAE appears to be only expanding. Last month, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – also the de facto leader of Dubai’s business hub – announced that the country will introduce new facial recognition technology to reduce paperwork on “some private sector services”.

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