The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Monday issued its first roadmap for the adoption of biometric technologies to strengthen aviation security while improving the passenger experience at airports and, like its sister agency Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it plans to focus on facial recognition technology.

The roadmap puts forth four goals for the biometric vision, with the first being working with CBP on using biometrics for international travelers by proving the operational feasibility of the technology, and the second to operationalize the technology for its PreCheck trusted travelers.

Customs and Border Protection is implementing facial recognition checks for travelers departing the U.S. by air. Photo: CBP
Customs and Border Protection is implementing facial recognition checks for travelers departing the U.S. by air. Photo: CBP

TSA already this year has done technical demonstrations of facial recognition technology at Los Angeles International Airport. In the second phase of the evaluation, TSA is using a CBP camera stationed with the TSA Travel Document Checker at the head of the checkpoint for outbound international travelers to confirm a match and present biographic data to the inspector on a tablet computer. TSA is using CBP’s backend Traveler Verification System (TVS), which temporarily houses photos of all departing and arriving international travelers for flights daily, for its evaluation of facial recognition technology and related processes.

The third goal in the roadmap is aimed at expanding the use of biometrics to more domestic travelers, which would likely be those that aren’t in trusted traveler programs. This goal calls for developing partnerships to achieve “scalable solutions,” and appears similar to CBP’s approach to having airport and airline partners pay for the front end camera and related equipment while it operates and maintains the back end TVS system.

The final goal is to develop the infrastructure that supports the adoption of biometric solutions.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske, in a letter introducing the roadmap, said, “It defines clear pathways to improve security, safeguard the Nation’s transportation system, and accelerate the speed of action through smart investments and collaborative partnerships.”

CBP traditionally has used electronic fingerprint scans to verify the identities of foreign nationals arriving to the U.S. The agency has begun to transform that process to make facial recognition the primary technology to verify the identity of international arrivals and is in the process of rolling out the technology at departure gates for all travelers departing the U.S. by air.

CBP is also evaluating facial recognition technology for pedestrians at land ports of entry and in vehicles.

TSA said the benefits of facial recognition include self-service and anti-tampering attributes, low cost given the wide availability of high-performance commercial cameras, and its flexibility and scalability for use across the passenger experience from reservation to boarding. It also said that facial images are also widely collected by federal and state organizations for identity documents.