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Star Alliance partners with tech giant NEC on facial recognition at airports

Key Points
  • Data such as photographs will be encrypted and securely stored on the platform, according to NEC. 
  • Customers at participating airports will be able to pass through areas such as boarding gates using facial recognition technology.
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Technology giant NEC has signed an agreement with the Star Alliance airline network to "develop a biometric data-based identification platform."

In an announcement at the end of last week, Tokyo headquartered NEC said that, once implemented, the "opt-in" system would enable Star Alliance customers at participating airports to pass through areas such as check-in kiosks and boarding gates using facial recognition technology.

Star Alliance members include Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Air India and Singapore Airlines. The system, which it's hoped will be introduced by the first-quarter of 2020, will only be available to people who are part of a Star Alliance frequent flyer program.

NEC said that data such as photos would be encrypted and "safely stored" in the platform and that passengers could still be required to show their passports "during security and immigration procedures."

In a statement Friday, the NEC Corporation's President and CEO, Takashi Niino, said that facial recognition was "truly revolutionizing the airline industry."

Biometrics are becoming an increasingly critical component of air travel. In the U.K., for example, some passengers can use a biometric passport to get through passport control without having to show documents to a border official.

In Australia, Qantas recently wrapped up a trial of facial recognition technology at Sydney Airport. According to the company, over 4,000 people signed up to use their "face as a boarding pass", with more than 200 flights leaving the airport with passengers who had used the technology.