Seeking to leverage biometric technology to better verify the identities of low risk passengers and increase efficiencies, the Transportation Security Administration in the next year plans to roll out a pilot project that uses fingerprint technology instead of a travel document checker at airport checkpoints, agency officials said on Thursday.

The pilot project is planned for use at PreCheck trusted traveler security lanes, Deborah Kent, director and executive Liaison Officer for TSA to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said at a DHS Industry Day. Travelers that participate in PreCheck are considered low risk because they have voluntarily submitted personal information, including fingerprints, to TSA to be vetted for inclusion in the program.

Safran Group's MorphoWave touchless four-print finger print scanner is one of many products that are part of the Identity & Security business being acquired by Advent. Photo: Safran
TSA is planning pilot projects at two airports to explore substituting fingerprint readers for the current travel document checks. Pictured here is Safran Group’s MorphoWave touchless four-print finger print scanner. Photo: Safran

The benefit to travelers that participate in PreCheck is that they typically don’t have to remove their shoes, laptop computers, 3-1-1 liquid compliant bag, belts and light outerwear before going through the screening process.

Kent said that the Biometric Authentication Tool (BAT) pilot is still on the “drawing board” but is part of the vision for the use of eGate technology before entering the aviation security checkpoint where a TSA Travel Document Checker currently is situated.

“The vision behind BAT is that it would be a networked eGate solution, which would contain integrated contact and contactless fingerprint readers,” Kent said. “BAT would receive real-time secure flight data as well as fingerprints from the TSA PreCheck population and use the information upon validation to facilitate passenger flow through the eGate to the next layer in checkpoint security.”

In addition to improving operational efficiency, use of the biometrics to verify passenger identities would strengthen security by lessening reliance on credentials and boarding passes to verify identities during the screening process, Kent said.

Mike Turner, deputy director of the Program Management Division within TSA’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told attendees the BAT pilot would take place within the next year at two airports. He said that pilot would initially begin with the PreCheck lanes to better understand the various impacts of incorporating a biometric check into the security process before potentially expanding it.

Keith Goll, the senior technical adviser within TSA’s Office of Security Capabilities, said that through the agency’s new Innovation Task Force, it is looking for ideas to improve security and the traveler’s experience in going from the curb to gate. He said that TSA is open to ideas on how biometrics can be used in this journey.

Kent said that TSA has a separate biometric effort also underway that is aimed at armed law enforcement officers (LEOs). The Armed LEO pilot would take advantage of the personal identify verification (PIV) card that each officer carries, she said.

The PIV cards include biographic and biometric information. At the gate the officer would supply their PIN to “unlock” the information on their card and using a biometric validate that information against a TSA-maintained database, Kent said.

This would facilitate the flow of the armed LEOs through the checkpoint, Kent said.