Having already committed to using facial recognition technology to verify the identities of foreign nationals departing the U.S. on international flights, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plans to add the technology to its premier trusted traveler program for participating U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the country by air, according to the agency’s senior official.
Adding facial recognition to the Global Entry program will begin in 2018 and it will replace the passport and “slow” fingerprint verification process used with the program’s self-service kiosks currently used by participants to bypass CBP officers and re-enter the country more quickly and conveniently, re-enter the country, says Kevin McAleenan, acting Commissioner of CBP.
Beyond that, CBP eventually wants a kiosk-free experience for its Global Entry members, which numbers more than 7 million.
In the first phase of the program transformation, “you’ll be able to walk up to a Global Entry kiosk, it will take your picture first instead of your passport and your fingerprints, and quickly enroll you and move you on,” McAleenan says Dec. 6 at the American Association of Airport Executives annual aviation security conference. “Eventually, though, we’d like to get your face capture on the move and if you’ve got something to declare you walk over to declare it, if not, you walk straight out, never stopping if you’re in Global Entry. That’s where we want to be within the next 18 to 24 months.”
CBP is currently evaluating facial recognition technology at eight airports as part of a decade-plus-old legislative mandate to use biometrics to ensure foreign nationals have left the U.S. in accordance with the terms of their visas. In addition to moving out on deploying facial recognition at airport departure gates for international fights, CBP has an effort underway to add the technology to the air arrivals process for all international travelers coming to the U.S. For the arrivals process, the camera technology could be at the CBP officers’ processing booths, somewhere else in the customs staging area, or in some type of mobile configuration.
Global Entry participants typically get to bypass the entry processing at CBP booths unless they have something to declare or for another reason such as a random inspection.
McAleenan describes the results of the biometric exit evaluations as “outstanding,” saying that through June of this year more than 100,000 travelers leaving the U.S. by air have had their identities verified with a match rate of 97.5 percent. He also says the technology hasn’t slowed the boarding process for the flights.
CBP sees facial recognition as the key enabler for transforming the travel process, at least for operations, and potentially airports and airlines. The agency temporarily stores the biometrics of all travelers on international flights in backend cloud service called the Traveler Verification System (TVS).
The TVS system, which is expected to be fully scaled early in 2018 by Unisys [UIS], contains photo galleries for fliers that CBP is offering its partners in the aviation community to access so that they can help make the travel process more convenient and seamless for their customers. JetBlue [JBLU] is using facial recognition in lieu of a boarding pass for one flight each day from Boston to Aruba in conjunction with CBP using the technology as part of its biometric exit evaluations.
“It really looks like the future to me,” McAleenan says of the Boston to Aruba flight. Delta Airlines [DAL] is also soon expected to begin using facial recognition technology instead of a boarding pass for fliers on select international flights out of Atlanta as part of the ongoing CBP evaluations, he said.
“Our aviation partners can plug into the Traveler Verification Service at any point in the travel process for identity verification and they can utilize this service in the future for things like check in, bag drop, or the boarding of travelers on a plane,” McAleenan says. “And we’re also testing the capability with TSA at the security checkpoint.”
CBP and the Transportation Security Administration this fall partnered on a month-long evaluation of facial recognition technology at a security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to compare live photos against those on traveler’s travel documents.
Once the TVS system is scaled up, CBP plans to roll out the biometric exit procedures over the next three to four years at the nation’s international airports. While the agency is funding the operation of TVS, it expects airlines and other stakeholders to pay for the acquisition and maintenance of the camera technologies that will be deployed at departure gates.
Some airlines have pushed back and say they don’t feel they should pay for the front-end systems while JetBlue and Delta appear to be forward leaning to see how the systems can be integrated into their business models to improve the traveler experience.
McAleenan says “it’s going to be a collaborative effort with your industry,” adding that it “Won’t work via government regulation and if it’s not part of your business processes.”
McAleenan says that in addition to JetBlue and Delta, some airports are interested in taking advantage of TVS, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
“We have several airports, including LAX, looking at it as a common use platform for their international flights,” he says. “We started with British Airways, we’ll be adding Lufthansa at the major outbound international terminal at LAX. We continue to coordinate with many other Airports and airlines to implement these projects that we hope to build into our broader operational system over the coming months.”
Currently, several contractors have been involved in the front end process at airline departure gates: NEC Corp.; SITA; and Vision-Box.