First Experience With The New Creepy Global Entry Machines

by joeheg

We’ve had Global Entry for around seven years but don’t use the service all that often because we only travel outside the U.S. once or twice a year, if even that. The reason we signed up was that being approved for Global Entry also gets you TSA Precheck access, and for the small incremental cost, it was worth it even if we only use it once a year, or even just once or twice in the five years of our enrollment.

With the delays in processing applications, I’m not sure if that’s the best decision for everyone right now, but we have it so might as well use it.

On return to the U.S. from our recent trip to Germany, I got to experience the new technology being used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when using a Global Entry Kiosk for the first time, and I gotta say, it kinda creeped me out.

I should have known this technology advancement was coming. There were various stories over the past year that CBP was getting ready to implement this, but the rollout has been slow and happening one airport at a time. It ran under my radar until I experienced it for the first time.

Facial Recognition

To understand this change, you have to think about how Global Entry has worked up until now. Here’s the description, still on the CBP website.

At airports, program members proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.

That’s how it’s worked every time up until now. Except for Sharon who’d always have to go see an agent because the camera would only capture the top of her head and she’d have a picture that looked like Cousin It from the Addams Family.

This time, when getting to the passport check area of JFK Airport, we headed towards the line for Global Entry.

Fortunately, we were some of the only passengers going to the kiosks and pulled out our passports. What was slightly different was that there was a CBP agent standing by the machines; they’re usually unattended. As I walked up, I was instructed by the on-screen prompts to look at the camera and center my face on the screen.

I was expecting to be asked for my fingerprints and passport, but instead, the kiosk spit out my receipt. Not only did it include my name, but also the flight I arrived on, with no other information that a scan of my face.

We also found out why the agent was there. When Sharon walked up to the kiosk, and it took the usual picture of her head, he walked up and adjusted the camera so it was able to see her face. Once it was, she received her receipt, as I did.

What’s the big deal?

Why was I so surprised? I gave my picture to Global Entry when I signed up. I have to provide my passport number to the airlines when I fly, so it’s easy to match those up. The only thing that was needed is the computer technology that’s able to match my picture with the one they have on file. I have a phone that does that every time I unlock it so why couldn’t the government have the same capabilities?

At the time, it creeped me out for a moment. With the stories about the protesters in Hong Kong having to wear masks to keep the CCTV cameras and drones from identifying them (BTW, I’m glad I decided to hold off on our visit there), the idea of the government being able to I.D. me just with a picture and then knowing where I was and where I was going had a newly ominous feel to it.

I was the one who submitted to this in the first place. Heck, the government has my picture from my passport application. I gave CLEAR my fingerprints and my retinal scans to get through the security theater of the TSA checkpoints a little bit faster. Disney collects my biometric data to let me into the park with my annual pass. I’m no safer online as my browsing history, my physical location, and even possibly, my conversations are used to tailor the information I’m shown, even if I use a VPN.

So while the CBP says that as a U.S. citizen, you’re still able to opt-out of using facial recognition as means of confirming your identity when entering or leaving the U,S,; it doesn’t mean they don’t already have your picture (because they do). If the TSA and airlines have their way, this is the way we’ll all be checking in for our flights and making our way through security. Now that we’re living in the future, who knows what the future will bring?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

Feature photo by James Tourtellotte/CBP


D. Moriarty January 6, 2020 - 1:15 pm

I used the new system for the 1st time last Tuesday. Scared the heck out of me. Before I could even get my passport and fingertips near the machine it spit out the paper. Going to take some getting used to.

ptahcha January 6, 2020 - 1:35 pm

Don’t forget when the airline submit the manifest, it contains your passport number, which can be correlated to a photo. That’s how they can correlate your kiosk picture with your information.

Nathan January 6, 2020 - 2:17 pm

I’ve used it a few times now too, and it’s a creepy feeling I agree. But happy to be fast!

Christian January 6, 2020 - 2:58 pm

Technology is bringing us a brave new world.

colleen January 6, 2020 - 3:43 pm

This is actually terrific news for the small percentage of us with non-readable fingerprint issues. I’ve “passed” GE only a few times over umpteen years. Always had to go to the agent. Didn’t realize it was a “thing” until I read a WSJ article on it a few years back. They said the problem was being worked on; glad to hear this news.

Silver Springer January 7, 2020 - 8:10 am

I have the same issue with unreadable fingerprint scans

Samuel Coleman January 6, 2020 - 5:44 pm

In the more distant future, they’ll be able to track the restaurants you go to, and the fact you visited your mother-in-law last summer in Florida when you live in Oregon!

Anthony January 7, 2020 - 6:13 am

They do now! Google Maps just asked me to confirm my method of transport on 30 December was a cable car! (It was!)

M January 6, 2020 - 8:14 pm

Just came back into the country yesterday. I am Asian-American, but my picture caused the machine to spit a visa waiver for a Brit, with a very British name.

Tony January 7, 2020 - 1:21 am

Australia has been using facial recognition for their smartgates for years. Global Entry is only just catching up.

Matt January 7, 2020 - 9:09 pm

Yeah but I couldn’t pass AU & NZ facial Rec to save my life! Had to go to an agent probably 70% of the time. Hoping GE is a bit better.

Rich January 7, 2020 - 4:39 am

If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Unless you are a paranoid …
And if it creeps you out so much, then don’t be a hypocrite. Go stand in the LONG line (and skip PreChek, too) so you can feel more comfortable with your self, and I can get out and on my way.

Sorry to be blunt.

joeheg January 7, 2020 - 11:41 am

The whole argument that I’ve done nothing wrong so I have nothing to fear is fine until the government decides to change what’s right and wrong. And, I’m still going to use the machines so no shorter line for you. It was more a realization of the new technology than my refusal to use it.

Anthony Watts January 7, 2020 - 6:11 am

Sincerely, and with no sense of belittling what you have written, it this is the most niaeve article on entry into the US I have read for a while. First, it is weird how the photograph machines at US points of entry can’t work out how tall you are. In most other similar systems around the world the camera usually goes up or down depending on your height.
Second this sort of “creepy” technology has been around for at least 5 years. It’s not new. It’s just as creepy as ever. The US does managed to make the process as unfriendly as possible.
All this just to say your article is informative for Americans who don’t travel much, which for a travel blog seems weird.

joeheg January 7, 2020 - 11:34 am

You’d be surprised at how many people that read travel blogs aren’t sophisticated international travelers. It’s easy to lose perspective.

Pilot guy January 7, 2020 - 11:09 am

Just used it in JFK, didn’t work for me. Had to go old school with finger prints etc. Delta Air Lines is using facial rec for boarding now works better than Global!

jtarnoff January 8, 2020 - 12:11 am

Not sure why this is disconcerting. And, recently on a flight out of JFK to Dubai on Emirates, they didn’t scan boarding passes. Rather they just used facial recognition. Guess that they scan the passports when you check in. First time I’ve seen that.

ClistyB January 8, 2020 - 7:20 pm

We visited HKG in November, in between two of the violent attacks. While it’s smart to keep tabs on what’s happening, it wasn’t anything like the media portrays. Disney was empty and the only minor inconvenience was some restaurants closed earlier. Flights were priced well.

peldow January 8, 2020 - 10:26 pm

I have used it recently. I am good with it. I have nothing to hide.

Orhan February 26, 2020 - 8:25 am

Not creepy, about time technology is being used to process entry data quickly and smoothly. At least Customs is using what credit agencies and banks and private sector have been using for years. For those concerned about privacy concerns, that evaporated years ago, and FaceBook eliminated any remnants of privacy, We were debating getting into Global Entry years ago, and when it took us 3 hours to get though Customs while the Global Entry line had no one in it, we “quickly” enrolled. This past year….I and my wife renewed our 5 year passes online at the same time, mine was approved in one day, hers has been delayed 7 months….. Customs needs to improve its processing of applications, especially renewals!


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