The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the expansion and accelerated development of various touchless technologies, with facial recognition being one among them. We spoke with CEO Rob Watts, of cutting-edge facial recognition software company Corsight, about facial recognition tech’s expanding role within the travel space, and how it stands to benefit both consumers and industry stakeholders amid COVID-19, and beyond.
Corsight maintains offices in the U.S. and U.K., is headquartered in Israel and conducts operations all around the globe. Prior to the pandemic and the urgent need that it created for contactless solutions, the bulk of Corsight’s business was conducted in support of security, surveillance and counterterror work.
Corsight’s autonomous AI is essentially military-grade software and represents a vast evolution over the type of facial recognition tech we’re used to using. “We can identify someone with 90-degree head turn. We can identify someone with a camera at 70-degree rake, we can identify someone with a face mask—not just with a face mask, but with a ski mask…with hat, glasses, all of that,” Watts said. And, astonishingly, “We can identify someone who is now age 50 from a photograph of them at age 17.”
Corsight is currently involved in the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass initiative, which is essentially what some would call a “vaccine passport”, though it can also access test results or proof of recovery documents as well as provide details on testing locations, destination entry requirements and other real-time information pertaining to a user’s flight.
In an introductory video, IATA describes the Travel Pass app as a “one-stop-shop to securely and conveniently let you verify that you meet COVID-19 health requirements for your journey.” The integration of facial recognition technology comes into play as, “The app’s digital ID function will also pave the way for a future where travel is even more contactless, and IATA Travel Pass can act as your digital passport.”
When asked whether he felt travelers would balk at the idea of surveillance by the software or having their facial biometrics scanned while traversing the airport, Watts said, “What I think passengers are looking for, more than anything, is a safe and secure environment…for their fellow passengers and also for themselves.”
But, privacy worries seem to be particularly prevalent among the American public, as compared with other global populations. “We at Corsight…believe that what we do can be, and should be, used as a force for good. It’s not an overbearing, overarching imposer into our private lives—it’s not.”
Watts believes that allaying the public’s fears over the privacy of their personal data will all come down to establishing proper governance. “If it were to be introduced correctly at state level as to the appropriate use of facial recognition, the U.S. states might start to see that facial recognition can be used as a force for good in the same way that, here in the U.K., it absolutely is starting to be used for that,” Watts said.
“I’m looking to leverage how facial recognition can be used as a force for good…Come back to Travel Pass—Travel Pass is an absolute legitimate use of facial recognition because it’s being used as a force for good,” he continued. “It’s protecting people’s lives, and it’s enabling people to travel safely and securely.”
Will It Really Fly?
The Corsight CEO has no doubt that the facial recognition market will be implemented and accepted on a broader scale in the future. “It will be adopted by the likes of you and I because it’s convenient for us to use facial recognition,” he said. Facial recognition is already making its way into our everyday lives, as we use our faces to do things like unlock our phones or access our mobile banking information. “It’s far more protective to have facial biometric ID opening up your bank account than it is a four-digit PIN,” Watts affirmed, “absolutely far more secure.”
“Transacting with your face makes life a lot easier,” He opined. “As you approach the gate, you want the gate to recognize that your biometric is known by that processing system, therefore it allows you through that gate. Therefore, as you approach the bag drop area, you’re known to that bag drop assistant that you have a vaccine, you have been COVID tested, you are a credible person to fly.”
Privacy-wise, using your biometric isn’t so different from other forms of identification, but is vastly more secure. In the same way that you “own” your social security number, your passport number, your credit card numbers or even your social media accounts, “You’re owning your biometric data,” Watts said. “It’s exactly the same thing.”
He explained, “In engaging with a travel agent, you’re giving them your data; in engaging with an airline, you’re giving them your data. All that is happening here is that data is being exchanged digitally and your facial recognition is being exchanged digitally.”
As it’s used for surveillance purposes, facial recognition software scans individuals’ biometrics as they pass through ports or airports, running them through a database to flag anyone who appears on a particular watchlist—missing persons, people traffickers, terrorists, etc.
But, for the average person who isn’t known to the system, “we’re not in the database.” Watts explained. “So, as soon as my image or your image is seen in a surveillance database—certainly within the Corsight software—yes, you’re looked at, you’re seen, but your data is deleted within 0.4 of a second. I can guarantee that to you.”
“I really do believe what we do is a force for good,” he said in conclusion. And, “I really do believe what we do, certainly within Corsight, we tick all the boxes from a privacy and [ethicality] standpoint.”