Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is developing a plan to expedite the rollout of a biometric solution to augment the tracking of foreign nationals as they depart the United States and soon plans to provide the deployment schedules, the agency said.

The accelerated implementation of the biometric exit solution is part of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump earlier this month that attempted to temporarily suspend immigration to the U.S. from seven countries of concern where terrorist organizations operate. These countries include Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. The ban, which also paused a refugee admissions program, has been halted for now in federal courts.

Test subjects queue at a mock CBP airport entry processing station as part of a DHS effort to test biometric entry and exit devices for foreign nationals arriving and departing U.S. airports. Photo: DHS
Test subjects queue at a mock CBP airport entry processing station as part of a DHS effort to test biometric entry and exit devices for foreign nationals arriving and departing U.S. airports. Photo: DHS

In a statement, a CBP official said the agency “is accelerating the deployment of a biometric exit system by building upon existing operational platforms and using proven biometric technologies. CBP has identified a feasible solution and is developing a scalable approach that builds upon successful biometric pilots in operations. CBP will provide timelines and deployment schedules in the near future and is currently working closely with stakeholders to ensure successful implementation.”

CBP is currently conducting pilot testing of facial recognition technology on one international flight per day from Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport to Mexico. This test, which is aimed at foreign nationals departing on the flight, follows similar testing last year on a flight from Atlanta to Japan.

CBP has also tested handheld biometric capture technology of foreign nationals departing the country, but agency officials last year said that the facial recognition technology, deployed at departure gates near the jetway, offered the best solution at large airports with high volumes of international flights.

Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary during the last three years of the Obama administration, directed in early 2016 that CBP begin implementing by 2018 a biometric exit solution at the largest U.S. airports in terms of international departures. How much sooner the exit solution will be rolled out under the Trump still isn’t clear.

CBP last year began to envision a more comprehensive biometric exit solution, based on facial recognition technology, that also involved some of its stakeholders and government partners, including airports, airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The grander vision would involve the use of biometrics at the check-in process, TSA checkpoint and, finally, at the departure gate, enabling the tracking of foreign nationals as they progress through the airport.

The biometric data will help CBP, TSA and various stakeholders in the air transportation industry improve the traveler’s experience from their homes to their final destinations and then home again, Colleen Manager, executive director for Planning, Program Analysis, and Evaluation within CBP’s Office of Field Operations, said last November and December at separate security conferences.

The same biometric data could be used by both CBP and TSA to meet their respective security needs and move travelers more efficiently through an airport and onto a plane, Manaher said.

Manaher also said that airports and airlines could have access to this data, which would allow them to create new business opportunities.

How closely CBP and TSA have collaborated on a biometric exit solution isn’t clear. TSA hasn’t introduced biometrics at airports, although last fall agency officials said they planned to begin a pilot test in 2017 of biometric technology to identify its PreCheck trusted travelers at checkpoints, instead of having them present their travel documents to an agency officer before going through a screening lane.

Trump’s executive order addressed biometrics for entry and exit by foreign nationals arriving to, and departing from, the U.S. Foreign nationals are currently subject to fingerprint checks upon arrival to the U.S. at land, air and sea ports of entry. The presidential directive also doesn’t narrow the application of biometric checks to airports.

CBP in 2015 and into 2016 did conduct a pilot of biometric technologies at a land port of entry in the southwest U.S. That pilot is finished.