Continuing its work toward an initial biometric exit solution at some of the nation’s international airports in 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has begun a test of facial comparison technology on a daily flight out of Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta and is planning to begin a procurement effort for the biometric exit program early in 2017.

An agency spokesman told Defense Daily last Friday via an email response to questions that the new facial comparison technology test in Atlanta will “drive the final set of specifications and requirements for a biometric exist procurement to be released in early 2017. Through the federal procurement process, CBP will find the private sector vendor with the best technologies that meet CBP mission needs for a biometric exit system.”

Unidentified traveler submitting a fingerprint at a Customs and Border Protection workstation. Photo: CBP
Unidentified traveler submitting a fingerprint at a Customs and Border Protection workstation. Photo: CBP

CBP announced the new test last Monday. The test involves the capture of facial images of all travelers departing the airport on one daily flight to Japan. The agency will test the ability of its information systems to compare images of the travelers against previously provided images in an automated fashion.

Unisys [UIS] has been integrating a number of biometric arrival and departure pilot tests for CBP at several airports and land ports of entry as the agency tries to figure out what technologies work best in what environments and without disrupting the flow of travel. The agency didn’t disclose the integrator or technologies for the new pilot in Atlanta but the spokesman said the use of a specific company for the testing “should not be taken as an indication of future CBP procurement plans.”

In addition to testing the facial comparison technology, the test in Atlanta will examine the re-architecture of the agency’s data systems to process departure data and support the face recognition technology. It will also test the concept of operations for biometric exit in airports. The test will run until Sept. 30.

CBP is currently conducting biometric exit tests using handheld fingerprint technology at 10 airports including Atlanta. However, the agency has said this BE-Mobile pilot is labor intensive and costly and is more likely to be applicable for smaller airports with few international departures.

CBP is also conducting facial comparison tests at two airports for arriving travelers.

CBP currently collects fingerprints of foreign nationals arriving in the United States to ensure that their biometrics match the data on their electronic passports. Congress has mandated a biometric exit system for years but the Department of Homeland Security until recently has maintained that implementing such a system would be costly and difficult to do without hindering flight schedules. Airports don’t have the same infrastructure for exit processing as they do for entry processing.