Oleg Smolenkov is a former employee of Russia’s Foreign Policy Directorate.
He worked in the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. until 2008. Then he worked on the staff of President Putin.
In 2017, Oleg and his family went on vacation to Tivat, a resort in Montenegro that’s a favorite destination for Russians.
But Oleg and his family never came back from their vacation…
They simply disappeared.
Oleg was spying on behalf of the U.S., providing Washington with information for years.
And his family vacation to Montenegro wasn’t exactly a vacation…
It was a cover for the U.S. to get Oleg and his family to safety.
The family arrived in Montenegro via a flight from Russia. A few days later, they left on a yacht.
The yacht took Oleg and his family to Italy. From there, they traveled to the U.S.
Now, that’s an example of an elaborate exfiltration of an asset.
But, as tough as that was to pull off, going forward, exfiltrations such as Oleg’s are only going to get more challenging.
More countries are securing their borders, doing more to check who is entering and leaving.
In the U.S., travelers boarding a plane departing the country must show their passports to the airline. The passports are scanned and the traveler boards the plane.
But there is a system to expedite this process.
The Traveler Verification System (TVS) takes a digital photo of the traveler. It uses facial recognition to compare it to the flight’s passenger manifest.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses similar software called Simplified Arrival.
The difference is that airlines allow customers to opt-out of facial recognition technology.
In other words, passengers can choose to have their passports checked the old way.
But this won’t last forever.
Many travelers don’t even know they have the choice to opt-out of facial recognition, and soon it might not be a choice anyway.
With that being said, here are more concerns with biometric technology when traveling – whether at home or abroad.
Facial recognition technology can (obviously) be abused.
The technology can lead to tracking the movements of Americans and non-Americans in the country.
Plus, federal law-enforcement agencies cooperate with foreign, state, and local law enforcement by sharing data.
When traveling, you should assume that your image is captured at all customs or border checkpoints, and your picture will become part of a federal government database.
Protecting the data:
The federal government is not immune from hacking.
Remember the 2015 cyberattack against the Office of Personnel Management?
The federal government is gathering data that there is no guarantee it can protect.
There have already been cases where hackers got into databases containing facial scans collected by banks.
If criminals get biometric information, they could collect personal information, including imagery and video. With this, they can commit identity fraud.
The facial recognition technology used by the CBP has an accuracy rate of about 98%.
This might seem good, but when it comes to someone’s identity you wouldn’t want to be in the 2% of error. This will lead to some travelers getting “no match.”
And facial recognition is far from perfect.
The technology depends upon algorithms to make facial matches, and it’s less effective at identifying women and people of different skin tones.
Things like camera angles, lighting, and video quality can all affect and even fool biometric scans.
But biometric technology is going to continue to evolve and improve and expand.
So just be aware, whether here or on travel, big brother is likely watching.