Security and Privacy

A Delicate Dance: Screening and Privacy

The tradeoffs between security and privacy have always been a delicate dance in free societies. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution set the tone for search and seizure laws, which have been implemented in a similar fashion across democracies worldwide. Obviously, these are matters of law – but they also confirm how privacy (or, more precisely, protection against unreasonable search) is valued as a fundamental right.

 

For venue and event operators, “search” equates to “patron screening,” and in these times of heightened concern around safety and privacy − along with sensitivity to discriminatory behavior − striking the right balance between screening and privacy has never been more important or complex.

 

In a perfect world, every patron could be thoroughly and anonymously screened without knowing it, and venue operators would only need to take special action on those who are breaking venue rules by sneaking in weapons, alcohol or other forbidden items. However, even in this perfect world, there could be problems. For example, using thermal imaging to identify people running fevers during a pandemic seems like a sensible thing to do from a public health standpoint, but when viewed through the lens of privacy, it’s a step too far for people who believe medical information should only be shared between patients and their caregivers. 

 

This simple example shows how technology can simultaneously solve one problem, only to create others. There are currently many new technologies on the market that promise to move toward a more perfect balance of security and privacy, however each needs to be evaluated against the needs of the business and the potential for unintended consequences. Here are some of the considerations required for the most prevalent of these technologies:

 

Weapons Detection

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based weapons detection gateways provide powerful capabilities for patron screening. The ability to scan for weapons in a non-intrusive fashion removes the metal-detector roadblock at entry points, which enables venues to return to a patron experience resembling pre-9/11, when people could come and go relatively unimpeded. 

 

However, understanding how the AI has been developed is an important consideration for avoiding unintended consequences. AI in weapons detection systems should not care what a person looks like, how they are dressed, or what race or gender they happen to be. Instead, it should simply focus on the job at hand: identifying the presence of weapons. However, if the training data used to “teach” AI how to detect weapons is implicitly biased (for example if it is too heavily weighted to a particular race or gender), then when it hits the “real world” it can cause problems by using that race/gender information in its algorithm to score threats. This can cause one group of people to be subject to greater scrutiny through secondary screenings, which creates privacy violations through unwarranted searches (or, at a minimum, the perception of privacy violations).

 

The good news is, there are steps organizations can take to prevent this situation. AI vendors should be able to provide information on how they trained their systems, to avoid the presence of implicit bias. And, when patrons can stroll through screening stations in a fraction of the time required by walk-through metal detectors, it becomes obvious how the technology benefits both patrons and the venue operator. Faster entry, smaller lines, and more time enjoying the inside of the venue is a win for everyone. 

 

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is one of the most controversial technologies available today. The name itself conjures images of “Big Brother” police states monitoring citizens. However, as is the case with most security technologies, it’s not the technology itself that’s the problem – it’s the application. 

 

Some stadiums today, for example, are using facial recognition on an opt-in basis to streamline the patron experience. The technology enables people’s faces to become their tickets so they can simply walk into games without requiring a ticket scan, while also providing instant ID approval for purchasing alcohol and even payments, eliminating the delays involved with checking IDs and processing payments. 

 

By using an opt-in model, venues can avoid the inherent privacy issues surrounding facial recognition. And, just as more and more people opted into electronic tolling on highways as they saw other drivers zooming unimpeded through toll plazas, if the benefits of the facial recognition and other streamlining technologies (like weapons-detection gateways) are apparent to everyone, more and more people will become comfortable with them.

 

Advanced Video Analytics

AI-based video analytics is a force multiplier for security teams. It scales to monitor any number of video feeds, and can alert on everything from developing crowd disturbances, to the presence of a weapon in someone’s hand, to spills on the floor, abandoned packages, long lines at concessions stands and other issues that operations personnel need to be made aware of. These systems also provide valuable real-time situational intelligence that improves the effectiveness of responding staff members.

 

Of course, any AI system can have the implicit bias issues mentioned earlier – so as a matter of course, venue operators should seek assurances from vendors relative to how their AI-based video analytics systems are trained, and how they have been architected to reduce the potential for implicit bias.

 

The Grand Finale: Communications

Privacy is often perception – patrons may believe their privacy is being violated, even when steps have been taken to ensure that does not happen. Because of this, the use of any new screening technology should be accompanied by an effective communications program to notify patrons that the technology is in use, and that steps have been taken to protect their privacy. A good example of this was when body scanners were first implemented in airports – there were accompanying information placards that showed how the systems worked, and how they obscured images of certain areas of the body that flyers would find objectionable. 

 

Likewise, if patrons understand how new technology is improving both their experience and safety, over time they will accept it as “business as usual.” And at that point, the dance between security and privacy is beautiful to watch!

 

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