The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this summer is on-track to conduct pilot evaluations of facial recognition technology at checkpoints at three airports as the agency progressed down a path to eventually deploying the biometric technology in the future, TSA officials said on Wednesday.

For the upcoming pilots, a camera will be integrated with TSA’s new Credential Authentication Technology (CAT), enabling a photo to be taken of a passenger for an automated comparison of the traveler’s image contained on his or her driver’s license that is simultaneously being electronically authenticated by the CAT device.

TSA is rolling out the CAT devices, which are supplied by IDEMIA, to the nation’s airports. The devices automatically validate the authenticity of driver’s licenses and other government-issued identity documents. Where TSA is deploying the CAT systems, travelers don’t have to present their airline boarding pass to the agency’s Travel Document Checker because that information is automatically pulled from the agency’s Secure Flight program.

Integrating facial recognition capability with CAT will mean that the Travel Document Checker won’t have to worry about manually matching a passenger’s photo with the image on their driver’s license.

In addition to the camera, TSA will use a facial matching algorithm, also supplied by IDEMIA, to locally match the image captured of an individual with his or her driver’s license, Jason Lim, the agency’s branch manager for the Screening Technology Integration Program, said at the annual Connect:ID conference in Washington, D.C.

A pilot TSA did last year at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport used a standalone camera that wasn’t integrated with the CAT device. That pilot helped TSA better understand the human factors that are critical to adding a new process to the checkpoint experience and that a CAT device could work with a camera to compare the live facial image against a passenger’s identity document.

The upcoming pilots, which will run for a month, will incorporate the lessons learned from the earlier evaluation and also network with TSA’s Secure Flight, which vets passengers against terrorist watch lists. Once the Travel Document Checker puts a person’s driver’s license into the CAT device, the system receives the traveler’s Secure Flight vetting status, allowing the officer to make a decision whether to allow the individual to continue into the checkpoint.

Austin Gould, TSA’s assistant administrator for Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, said at the conference that biometrics add security to the process while helping move people through the checkpoint faster and enhancing their experience.

“People like it,” he said, adding that this has been proven by the agency’s experience with the evaluation last year in Las Vegas and the ongoing use of the facial recognition technology at an evaluation at the checkpoint at Terminal F in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

In the Atlanta effort, TSA is using camera technology at its PreCheck trusted traveler lanes for international flights and sending the image captured of a traveler at the checkpoint for comparison against a gallery of images maintained by Customs and Border Protection for its biometric entry and exit system. The CAT-Camera (CAT-C) evaluations will be done with the non-trusted traveler population.

Gould said that the one-to-one matching that will be done with the CAT-C system helps to eliminate privacy, civil liberties, and cyber security concerns that might come with comparing a live image against a larger database of photos. He said for the CAT-C demonstrations the individual’s photo isn’t retained and matching is local.

As to when TSA might begin operational deployments of CAT systems equipped with cameras, Gould told Defense Daily later that this is yet to be determined. He said the agency is exploring having industry purchase the cameras and gifting them to TSA much like airlines have purchased more than 100 Automated Screening Lanes and gifted them to the agency to evaluate at some airports.

For the CAT-C evaluations this summer, TSA expects the integrated configuration and form factor to be the final one for the one-to-one matching to assist the Travel Document Checker, according to a slide presentation by TSA’s Lim.

The same slides show that TSA is planning another pilot in 2021, called CAT-C AutoCAT, that will evaluate automating all the Travel Document Checker functions so that the officer can focus on identity resolution or other priorities. Lim described this as an automated electronic-gate integrated with the CAT-C technology, which would be like a self-service document checking station.

Lim also said that TSA is working with industry groups to keep abreast of developments with mobile driver’s licenses, which would contain digital identities that could be carried on a smart phone. He said the agency needs to be ready on a “technology and policy basis to ingest that identity” and “not miss a beat when the population starts to uptake this way of presenting their IDs.”