A Homeland Security pilot test begun last year to use facial recognition technology to verify the identities of foreign nationals leaving the U.S. on one daily international flight from an airport in Atlanta has transitioned to the Biometric Verification System (BVS), demonstrating that a congressionally-mandated biometric exit solution is beginning to take shape.
Over the next several months Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will continue testing different facial recognition devices and work with airlines to integrate the BVS system at additional airports, the agency says in its comments included in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Monday evening.
The facial recognition checks are being done at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at the boarding gate before foreign national enter the jetway on a single daily flight. The biometric exit checks complement biographic exit checks as well as fingerprint and biographic checks of foreign nationals when they enter the U.S.
The pilot in Atlanta was successful both in terms of facial matching and meeting five key parameters that included fitting into existing airport infrastructure, not adding another layer to the travel process, leveraging existing airline systems, making use of existing passenger behaviors, and taking advantage of existing government data systems and traveler data, says CBP in its Feb. 6 response to the GAO report.
Jeh Johnson, who was the Homeland Security Secretary during the last three years of the Obama administration, in early 2016 directed CBP to begin rolling out biometric exit systems at the largest U.S. airports in terms of international travel volumes by the end of 2018.
GAO says in its report that CBP is planning to deploy a biometric exit system to at least one airport in 2018, suggesting that the agency may not deploy to multiple airports by the end of next year. It also says the agency is “working with airlines and airports on strategies for using public/private partnerships to reduce costs and give industry more control over how a biometric exit capability is implemented at airport gates.”
The report cautions that, “However, the agency cannot complete the planning process until these partnership agreements and implementation decisions are finalized.”
GAO’s report is entitled, DHS Has Made Progress in Planning for a Biometric Air Exit System and Reporting Overstays, but Challenges Remain (GAO-17-170). The report is dated February 2017 and follows a directive from President Donald Trump in January that calls for DHS to expedited deployment of biometric entry and exit systems in the U.S.
CBP has said it plans to accelerate biometric exit solutions but so far hasn’t disclosed any specifics and GAO’s comment that CBP is planning to deploy a biometric exit system at one or more U.S. airports by the end of 2018 is at best level with the Obama administration’s plan. Late last year CBP began saying that it wants to include other stakeholder in the planning and deployment of biometric exit solutions, which could add time and complications to an eventual solution.
In its reply to the GAO report, CBP says it is still examining President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order to figure out how best to comply with the directive to accelerate biometric entry and exit solutions.
The GAO report also touches on CBP’s use of handheld biometric capture devices in pilot tests at 10 airports to understand how fingerprint technology could be used for biometric exit solutions. The BE-Mobile pilot showed that the technology is effective in capturing data ad matching it against DHS databases but that it is also takes up too much time and manpower.
The BE-Mobile technology might be better suited to small airports with few outbound international flights, CBP officials told GAO.