Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Tuesday announced a permanent deployment of a facial recognition system at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to help verify that certain travelers entering the United States match the passports they present.

The deployment applies to some first time Visa Waiver Program travelers and returning U.S. citizens with ePassports. The facial recognition verification deployment builds on a test last year of similar technology used to help verify the identities of returning U.S. citizens. Those tests determined that the technology successful performed matches against actual passports and live captured images.

John. F. Kennedy International Airport. Photo: Port of New York & New Jersey
John. F. Kennedy International Airport. Photo: Port of New York & New Jersey

The facial comparison technology compares an image of the traveler taken during the normal inspection process at a CBP station to the image stored on the traveler’s ePassport. The images taken by a camera at the station will be deleted unless CBP determines an image needs to be retained if further administrative or enforcement actions are necessary.

Visa Waiver Program countries issue ePassports to their citizens. The electronic documents contain a computer chip that holds the same information that is printed on the passport’s data page, including name, date of birth, other biographic information, and a digital photograph of the holder. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for business, tourism or while in transit for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa.

“CBP continues to provide innovative technologies to enhance homeland security while facilitating international travel,” CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said in a statement. “This biometric capability will aid our officers in identifying legitimate travelers while protecting them from fraud and identity theft with little to no delay to the entry process.”

CBP is also testing biometric technologies at other ports. The agency is testing mobile solutions to capture fingerprints of foreign nationals departing the country from a small number of major U.S. airports, and is also doing a test at the Otay Mesa, Calif., land port collecting face and iris images of certain foreign national arriving to and departing from the United States to increase its understanding of how to implement biometric technology into the exit process in the land environment.