Expanding its evaluation of face recognition in the airport environment, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has deployed the technology to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at a U.S. airport for a data collection effort.

The 30-day trial at TSA’s Terminal 7 international checkpoint at John F. Kennedy in New York involves using a camera stationed near the TSA travel document checker to capture a photo of international travelers and then compare each photo against travel document photographs that have been stored in a database based on outbound flights each day.

The current arrival process to the U.S. includes a fingerprint check of foreign nationals and a manual photo taken by a CBP officer. Photo: CBP
The current arrival process to the U.S. includes a fingerprint check of foreign nationals and a manual photo taken by a CBP officer. Photo: CBP

CBP has ongoing evaluations of face recognition technology at a single departure gate at eight U.S. airports to track the departure of foreign nationals from the country in compliance with their visas. The agency soon will begin evaluating face recognition systems to identify all inbound passengers on international flights to the U.S. to speed processing and to ensure the individuals are legitimate passport and visa holders.

CBP is looking to expand the use of face recognition technology to create an easier and more secure curb-to-gate experience.

In one instance, JetBlue is using the face recognition technology at a gate at Boston’s Logan International Airport to double as the boarding pass for a flight, eliminating the need for passengers to display their ticket to the airline’s gate agent. Delta Airlines is evaluating fingerprint technology in place of a boarding pass for select fliers. The airline is also looking at the technology as part of the bag drop process.

“As we continue to deploy technical demonstrations, CBP is assessing the use of biometric technology as part of a future end-to-end process, from check-in to departure, in which travelers use biometrics instead of their boarding pass or ID throughout the security and boarding process,” John Wagner, deputy executive Assistant Commissioner for the agency’s Office of Field Operations, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Expanding these demonstrations to the TSA process is the next step in CBP’s goal of transforming and improving air travel—making it smoother, seamless and more efficient for travelers—while also enhancing the security of the process.”

For CBP’s evaluation of biometric technology at the TSA checkpoint, outbound travelers will present their boarding pass and identity documentation to the TSA Travel Document Checker in accordance with current procedures. The TSA officer will then direct the individual to a camera near the podium to capture a facial image. Once that step is done, the individual will proceed through the checkpoint as usual.

TSA earlier this year evaluated fingerprint technology at an airport as a faster and more secure way to pass the travel document checker and enter a screening lane. Jose Bonilla, who directs the agency’s Innovation Task Force, said on Tuesday that the trial evaluated contact and contactless fingerprint technology. Results from the pilots are still being evaluated, he said during a presentation at the Department of Homeland Security’s exhibit at the annual Association of the U.S. Army expo in Washington, D.C.

Bonilla’s task force is examining innovative processes and technologies that could help speed and better secure the current checkpoint screening process. He said both types of fingerprint technologies presented challenges. In the case of the contact plates, some travelers balked at putting their hand down on surface left oily by another person’s hand. Some individuals had difficulty figuring out how to swipe their hand through a contactless reader, he said.

As with its ongoing biometric exit evaluations, CBP will delete any facial images within 14 days during the TSA checkpoint face recognition pilot. The facial images for the exit and checkpoint evaluations are stored in CBP’s Travel Verification System, which is managed by Unisys [UIS].

Currently, foreign nationals arriving to the U.S. have their fingerprints checked and have a photo taken manually by a CBP officer manning a booth that processes arrivals. The face recognition exit evaluations include automatic photo capture.