A case study and post-pandemic holday travel horror story:

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, will probably be the busiest day for air
travel in the USA since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
If you are flying this week for the first time in three years, what will you
see that has changed?  Unfortunately, many of the most significant changes
made during the pandemic are deliberately invisible—which is part of that
makes them so evil.

During the pandemic, largely unnoticed, the dystopian surveillance-by design
airport of the future that we've been worried and warning about for many
years has become, in many places, the airport of today.

While travelers were sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic,
airports have taken advantage of the opportunity to move ahead with
expansion and renovation projects. While passenger traffic was reduced,
and terminals and other airport facilities were operating well below
capacity, disruptions due to construction could be minimized.

A characteristic feature of almost all new or newly-renovated major airports
in the U.S. and around the world is that they are designed and built on the
assumption that all passengers' movements within the airport will be tracked
at all times, and that all phases of passenger processing will be carried
out automatically using facial recognition.

In the airport of the future, or in a growing number of present-day
airports, there's no need for a government agency or airline that wants to
use facial recognition to install cameras or data links for that purpose.
As in the new International Arrivals Facility at Sea-Tac Airport, which
opened this year, the cameras and connectivity are built into the facility
as common-use public-private infrastructure shared by airlines, government
agencies, and the operator of the airport—whether that's a public agency
(as with almost all U.S. airports) or a private company (as with many
foreign airports).

This integrated and as-invisible-as-possible surveillance infrastructure
exemplifies the malign convergence of interests between government agencies
that want to identify and track travelers for pre-crime predictive profiling
and control, and airlines and airports (motivated by business efficiency
even when they are operated by instrumentalities of state and local
governments) that want to use the same hardware, and data from government ID
databases, for business process automation and revenue maximization.

That malign convergence of interests extends to an interest in making
surveillance tech inconspicuous and, if it is visible at all, making it
appear normal and unavoidable. Neither government agencies nor travel
companies nor airports want travelers to notice or question what is
happening, or want to take responsibility for it. If travelers ask
questions, airlines want to be able to answer, “the Federal government made
us do it'', even if that isn't true (as it unquestionably isn't for
U.S. citizens or any domestic flyers within the U.S.).

The integration of facial recognition into the airport structure makes these
surveillance systems and practices much less visible—by design—than
retrofitted or standalone surveillance cameras.  Their positioning along the
flow of passengers from airport entrance to aircraft door makes it almost
impossible to pass through the airport and board a plane without being
photographed, identified, and tracked.

Opting out is, in these new airports and terminals, a purely theoretical
option for travelers who already know their rights (without being given
notice of them), figure out how to assert them (again without notice) and
who are willing to put up with additional questioning, search, and/or delay.


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