The Transportation Security Administration has begun a second evaluation of a facial recognition-based system for authenticating a traveler’s identification document, this time allowing airline passengers to use the system themselves without the need for an agency officer to handle the driver’s license or other credential.

The pilot at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport follows a successful evaluation in September 2019 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas of the Credential Authentication Technology-Camera (CAT-C) system, which uses face recognition to match a traveler to their identification document. The IDEMIA-supplied CAT system authenticates several thousand types and also displays flight information to the TSA Travel Document Checker (TDC).

During the evaluation in Las Vegas, travelers would hand their identification document to the TDC for a manual identification and also stand for a photo taken by the CAT-C device for the auto-identify feature. The facial recognition technology is seen as a more secure way to verify that a person presenting an identity credential is the individual that was issued the document.

The operating concept for the test at Reagan National involves travelers that voluntarily participate in the trial to insert their identity documents into the CAT-C system and have their photo captured so that the results are presented to the TDC, who is behind an acrylic shield, without the TSA officer having to handle the document.

With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, TSA says it is making contactless air travel a priority to enhance the health and safety of its officers and the traveling public. Around 1,800 TSA employees have tested positive for COVID and six have died due to the virus.

“In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA,” David Pekoske, TSA Administrator, said in a statement. “As a result, we are exploring rapid testing and deployment of this touchless, self-service technology. At the conclusion of the pilot, we expect to be able to determine how positioning the new technology will allow passengers to use it themselves thereby providing a safer checkpoint experience, while adding significant security benefits.”

The evaluation at DCA, like the earlier one in Las Vegas, is in the PreCheck trusted traveler lane. PreCheck members already typically have less contact with Transportation Security Officers, don’t have to separate their electronic devices for X-ray scanning, and pass through a walk-through metal detector rather than a body scanner.

Photographs taken by the CAT-C device are not saved.