Biometrics in Aviation – and Digital Ethics

By Alchemmy’s Olivia Belton

Charlotte Callinan’s recent blog stressed the aviation industry’s need to embrace digital transformation to enable a future of swift and secure travel. While there are many advantages to using new technologies such as biometrics, including reduced queuing and increased security, these need to be deployed safely, responsibly and intelligently. 

The IATA 2021 Survey found that passengers are excited about the potential biometric technology can bring to the aviation experience. The survey found that even though only 36% of passengers had experienced the use of biometrics while travelling, 73% passengers are willing to share their data to improve airport processes. Clearly, this is a huge opportunity for airports to cut down queuing times and build in top-of-the-line security checks – but it is important that these technologies are implemented wisely. 

When sharing their concerns about the use of biometrics, 56% expressed a concern about data breaches. Over half of respondents stipulated that they would want clarity on who their data is being shared with and how it is being used. Airlines and airports that can foster trust will be well-placed to succeed, whereas ones who are not proactively managing their data security, including transparency on data management, may risk of reputational damage or regulatory breaches. 

In May 2022, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK regulator charged with protecting information rights, fined the facial recognition database company Clearview £7.5m and ordered all UK data to be deleted due to improper collection methods. A similar action would be hugely disruptive to an airport or airline found in breach of the UK’s data protection laws. But even more harmful in the long-term is the loss of public trust.  

Digital ethics is still a nascent field, but one that is increasingly valued within industry. In Alchemmy’s recent report on Intelligent Automation, 84% of senior managers said they considered ethical principles for handling data “essential” for their strategy. Ethics is no longer a nice-to-have, but crucial to remaining competitive in the digital marketplace. 

At Alchemmy, we combine our extensive aviation expertise with cutting-edge business practice in digital ethics and cybersecurity. Ethics guidelines need to be sensitive to the sector’s conditions and specific challenges. The needs of airport retail are very different from those of security staff, which are different again from the needs of data scientists. We can identify the areas where you need assistance and help you build a process that works for you from the ground-up. Our offerings include: 

  • Developing internal capability for digital ethical governance. We will embed ourselves in your organisation, identify responsible technology champions, help you determine the strategy and frameworks that best fit your needs, and ensure that you have the right oversight to proactively identify ethical risks and mitigate them before they become problems. 
  • Providing external oversight. Our Digital Responsibility Forum (to be launched in 2023) is a community interest company made up of experts and practitioners in digital responsibility. Drawing upon this considerable resource, we can help you assemble a digital ethics advisory board which meets regularly to discuss your challenges and advise on how to respond 
  • Embedding an ethicist. We can supply an expert to work closely with your team to identify risks and benefits in new digital product offerings. This will help ensure newly deployed technologies are used responsibly and solutions in development are built in ways that don’t simply avoid harms but actively work towards optimising positive, ethical impacts 
  • Working with your Board, Security Operations and existing suppliers to improve security performance. We act as glue between risk, incidents, tools and people to focus attention on the real security story affecting your resilience and help you invest wisely in the right capability to deliver better security value. We evaluate your security posture to verify that cyber defences work as intended and identify improvements to make a step-change in security preparedness and resilience.

Securing the right ethical and security expertise will allow the aviation industry to respond agilely to emerging challenges and opportunities. Working hand-in-hand with your team, we can help you design digital solutions that are not just ethically compliant and secure, but genuinely transformative.  

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Published on

14th September 2022


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