After a series of pilot evaluations the past few years examining the integration of credential authentication systems and facial comparison technology, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2022 plans to begin a more robust testing effort that it hopes will lead to operational deployments of the technology beginning either late in 2022 or in 2023, agency officials said this week.

In 2021, TSA will complete the deployment of 2,000 Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) devices at many airport checkpoints throughout the U.S., Mario Wilson, the agency’s assistant administrator for Acquisition Program Management, said on Wednesday during the annual American Association of Airport Executives Aviation Security Summit. After that, TSA will work on getting approvals to deploy another 1,000 to 1,500 CAT devices for installation at all 430-plus airports in the U.S., he said.

The current CAT systems are used by Travel Document Checkers at TSA’s aviation security checkpoints to verify the authenticity of a traveler’s credential, typically a driver’s license, that the person presenting the credential is a valid holder of the identity document, and to run a check against the agency’s Secure Flight database to verify that the individual is due to depart the airport on a specific flight that day. With some of the CAT devices, the traveler inserts their license without the TSA agent having to touch the credential.

Wilson said that the CAT systems have “demonstrated a very, very strong ability to identify whether the person in front of that machine is the same person on the ID that’s presented.”

IDEMIA currently supplies TSA with CAT.

In the pursuit of a more touchless or contactless and passenger friendly experience at the checkpoint while at the same time strengthening security, TSA will be adding facial comparison technology to the CAT systems.

The agency has purchased 122 CAT systems integrated with a camera, what TSA is calling CAT-2, Jason Lim, identity management capabilities manager within TSA’s Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, told conference attendees on Tuesday. Those systems will be used for testing in 2022, he said.

The first round of CAT-2 testing next year will be developmental testing and then will be followed by operational evaluations, Wilson said.

TSA plans to host a new procurement for the purchase and deployment of CAT devices beyond the first 2,000, Wilson said. For the CAT-2 deployments, the legacy devices will be upgraded, he said, adding that the units procured under the next contract will meet the CAT-2 requirements, which will be finalized by the Office of Requirements and Capabilities.

The upgrades of the legacy CAT systems with the camera technology could happen in late FY ’22 or early in FY ’23 depending on funding, Wilson said.

The CAT-2 devices will enable TSA to more accurately verify the identity of a traveler entering a checkpoint.

Lim outlined three ways the advanced systems will be used to verify identities. One would be for use at the PreCheck trusted traveler screening lanes and would compare a person’s image against a relatively small gallery of images in a database maintained by Customs and Border Protection for all consenting trusted travelers departing from that airport that day.

Another use would be one-to-one facial verification for general travelers. In this case, a person inserts their driver’s license into the CAT-2 device, which then takes a photo of the individual to verify that the live photo matches the photo on the credential. CAT-2 will be able to “toggle between” one-to-one and one-to-many facial matching, Lim said.

Finally, TSA is also planning to integrate digital identity readers into CAT-2 so that the devices can read and verify mobile driver’s licenses that would be carried on a person’s smart phone.