Zuheir Dsai hugged his mother and watched her pass through security at the Greater Rochester International Airport on her way home to India. The local grad student knows that the next time his mother returns for a visit, she will likely pass through one of the nation's first airport facial recognition security systems.
"Security concerns. You can always have them," Dsai said with resignation. "You never know where your information will go to, but on the other hand, there’s nothing I can do about it."
Monroe County has begun to install facial recognition technology as a much-less heralded but much more significant change to the airport that was part of its most recent $79 million renovation. There's no specific mention of it in the county's online description of the airport project. But Airport Director Andy Moore says it is a significant security upgrade that leverages tech like never before.
"The facial recognition technology is a part of that effort to achieve a safer and more secure airport," Moore said.
A system of cameras— beyond what currently exists at the airport— will apply images of each person on the property to a National Homeland Security database.
"It’s strictly off of the terrorism watch database," Moore said. "So it is a select group of people. When you come through the airport it’s going to hit you, realize you’re not on the database and move on to other people."
Moore said the system will not maintain records of people who enter the property, nor will it use the data in any other way.
"We are not interested in selling any information or disseminating any information," Moore said.
Rosa Williams, of Newark, Wayne County, who returned to her new home in California with family approves of the upgrade.
"I am all for safety and I’m all for whatever you do to ensure that so I’m good," Williams said.
The Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union is prepared to challenge the system, including the Monroe County Legislature's approval. It's director, Iman Abid said the fact the county chose to release little information about it until the media raised questions about how it will be managed.
"We are running away from whether or not there is a clear policy around what the usage of the technology is," Abid said. "Where this information will actually be stored or for how long it will be stored. Or how it will be tested against other databases, whether it is other federal agencies or possibly other private vendors who might collect this information and what it will be used for."
The county plans to test the system for three to six months before bringing it online.