Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun the expansion of a year-old biometric technology evaluation aimed at improving the agency’s ability to verify and track the departure of foreign nationals leaving the United States on international flights.
The agency earlier this month says it deployed facial recognition technology to Washington Dulles International Airport for one daily flight from the U.S. to Dubai, building on a pilot begun last June at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That pilot effort is ongoing and has validated the concept of verifying the identities of travelers using facial recognition technology at the departure gate before they board an aircraft.
“CBP has been working closely with airline and airport stakeholders to test biometric exit technology and as a result has developed a viable exit solution based on facial recognition,” says Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of CBP.
Dulles is the first of seven additional airports that CBP plans to roll its biometric exit technology to in the next few months. The agency, in 2018, plans to begin more robust deployments of the technology at large U.S. airports with international flights, in line with direction given more than a year ago by Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary under former President Barack Obama.
President Donald Trump in an executive order earlier this year ordered the biometric exit deployment to be sped up but CBP appears to be taking a deliberative approach to the testing and rollout that generally tracks with Johnson’s direction.
For the facial comparisons, CBP uses the flight manifest and builds a flight specific photo gallery based on the travel document the traveler presented to the airline. At the departure gate, the agency compares the live photo taken by a camera against the photo in the gallery to verify the traveler is the same person presenting the travel document.
Unisys [UIS] has been CBP’s technology integrator for the tests in Atlanta and evaluations of biometric technology elsewhere by the agency.
CBP is working to roll out the biometric exit system at the behest of Congress. The mandate is directed at foreign nationals, who currently have their fingerprints checked when arriving in the U.S.
At the departure gates, CBP will be taking photos of all departing travelers on the international flights. If a live photo is matched to a U.S. passport, the person who has been identified as a U.S. citizen is automatically determined to be out of scope for the exit mandate and the photo is discarded after a short period of time, the agency said.
CBP’s larger vision is for facial recognition to be used to help facilitate a traveler’s journey throughout an airport, including checks by government agencies such as CBP and the Transportation Security Administration, and private stakeholder such as airlines and airports. On May 31 JetBlue [JBLU] said it is working with CBP to test a self-boarding process using facial recognition as part of the biometric exit technology evaluations the agency is doing.
For the biometric boarding pass testing, the program will begin this month at Boston Logan International Airport on flights to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba. Participation is voluntary and passengers that opt in can put away their boarding passes and devices in favor of a photo taken at the departure gate.
CBP says more airline-led biometric boarding pass pilots are expected to go live this summer.
JetBlue [JBLU] is also working with SITA to test the new self-boarding process as part of ongoing trials to implement a biometric exit process.
The live photo is instantly matched against the image on the passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database to verify flight details. A screen above the camera will notify the traveler when he or she is cleared to move into the jet way.
“CBP looks forward to engaging closely with the air travel partners, like JetBlue, to better understand how CBP’s biometric exit program will support their efforts to streamline the travel process by using advanced biometric technology,” says John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations. “By transforming current business operations, airlines and airports will have the opportunity to use verified biometrics to ensure a seamless and consistent process for travelers.”
Additional airline-led pilots will also go live this summer.
The Transportation Security Administration is also beginning to look at biometrics to verify passenger identities. This week the agency will begin assessing fingerprint technology at PreCheck trusted traveler lanes at two airports to verify the identities of travelers.
The authentication technology enables a traveler’s fingerprints to serve as both a boarding pass and identity document. The technology matches fingerprints given at the checkpoint by a passenger to those that have previously been provided to the agency by travelers when they are enrolled in PreCheck.
The proof of concept evaluation will use contact and contactless fingerprint readers.