Later this year 2016 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plans to begin a new pilot program that will use biometric technology based on capturing face and iris images to help verify the departure of foreign nationals from the United States, says an agency official.
CBP, working with the airlines, needs to “figure out a biometric…that you can take without creating gridlock and take two hours to board a plane,” John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, tells the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.
CBP currently has ongoing pilot tests of mobile fingerprint technology at the top 10 U.S. airports for international departures and the preliminary results are that this concept is “favorable” but “expensive” and isn’t going to be feasible at large airports, Wagner says. Combining the CBP staffing and the mobile fingerprint systems to deploy the more than 2,000 international departure gates in U.S. airports amounts to $1 billion annually, he says, adding that won’t do.
The Biometric Exit Mobile, also called BE-Mobile, began last July and will last a year. The upcoming biometric exit field trial using “new technologies in collecting face and iris images from foreign nationals” leaving the U.S. from an airport “will help CBP determine the feasibility of collecting biometrics ‘on the move,’ which will greatly assist in deploying a nationwide program,” Wagner said in his written statement provided to the panel.
Wagner says it will take a year for CBP to complete the new pilot and report on the results.
The CBP official says that the BE-Mobile solution will likely work at small and mid-size airport where there are fewer international departures.
Congress in 1996 mandated that the government establish a biometric entry and exit solution for foreign nationals entering and leaving the country. Implementation of a biometric entry exit system took on new urgency in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in which five of the 19 terrorists had overstayed their visas. Since 2004 there has been a statutory requirement for a biometric exit capability.
In 2006, under the US-VISIT program, the Department of Homeland Security achieved full operational capability of a biometric entry solution at all air, land and sea ports of entry but the exit piece has been difficult to come by mainly because the government doesn’t have dedicated space at airports to channel international departures through a chokepoint before passengers board a plane. CBP has maintained that putting biometric exit technology elsewhere at an airport, such as the security checkpoint, doesn’t prevent a person from leaving the airport after the screening process. The Department of Homeland Security has also maintained that deployment of an exit capability not disrupt the flow of travelers through airport terminals.
Last week CBP rolled out a facial comparison technology deployment for certain inbound passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to link travelers to their electronic passports. That technology was first pilot tested at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., last year and will be rolled out again at Dulles in February, Wagner says.
Unisys [UIS], which provided the facial recognition system for the testing at Dulles, is supplying the system being used at JFK. The system allows CBP officers to scan and display biographic and biometric information from travelers’ passport while a desktop camera captures their live facial images to enable one-to-one facial matching. If the images from the live capture and ePassport don’t match, travelers may be subject to additional investigation by CBP officers.
For travelers that are cleared their live capture images are deleted.
A CBP spokeswoman tells HSR that the facial recognition system will be deployed at additional U.S. airports this year to screen select passengers arriving on international flights. At JFK the system is being deployed at three terminals. The system is being used for some first-time Visa Waiver Program travelers and returning U.S. citizens with ePassports.
Unisys is supplying the facial recognition system under its Land Border Integration (LBI) contract with CBP that was awarded in 2010. That contract had a ceiling value of $350 million over five years and followed the company’s 2008 contract with CBP for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), for which Unisys deployed an integrated system of automated license plate readers to screen vehicles crossing the border, and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to confirm citizenship and identity of travelers with WHTI-approved, RFID-enabled travel documents.
Last year Unisys received a one-year bridge contract to prevent a break in LBI operations, maintenance and deployment support. CBP is moving forward to competitively awarding in the fourth quarter of FY ’16 a new LBI services contract.
CBP’s testing of different biometric technologies for arrivals and departures of foreign nationals at airports and also a land port in California has been based in part by a DHS Science and Technology effort to examine these technologies and operating concepts. The Air Entry/Exit Re-engineering project, called AEER, will end this year, a DHS official told the panel.
Under the LBI contract, Unisys is also providing a biometric system that CBP is testing at the Otay Mesa, Calif., port of entry that involves the collection of face and iris images of certain foreign national entering and exiting the country to increase the agency’s understanding of how to implement biometric into the exit process in the land environment.
For the entry phase of the Otay Mesa testing, Unisys has deployed Vision-Box kiosks equipped with Iris ID cameras and software to take a facial photograph and iris images of the select foreign nationals entering the U.S. These images are used for enrollment and templates are stored in a biometric repository.
For the exit phase of the project, Unisys deployed a static capture system of face and iris images and an outdoor on-the-move capture system of face and iris images using MorphoTrak’s face-on-the-fly system and SRI International’s Iris on the Move system. MorphoTrak is part of the Safran Group.
The FY ’16 Consolidated Appropriations Act that DHS is funded by allows for temporary fee increases for some via applicants to generate $1 billion toward a biometric entry and exit capabilities.