Facial Scans Catch ‘Impostors’ at Border as Agencies Embrace Use

  • CBP using technology at hundreds of airports, crossings
  • Expanded use planned at border, TSA checkpoints

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Facial recognition technology has helped identify more than 1,000 impostors attempting to enter the U.S. with false documents since 2018, an agency official said.

The “vast majority” of those identified were along the Mexico border over the past year as the technology was deployed at pedestrian crossings.

“It’s hard to overstate just how critical biometrics are to our day-to-day operations,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Troy Miller said at an Atlantic Council event Monday. CBP uses facial recognition technology for international travelers at more than 200 airports and more than 150 pedestrian crossings, he said.

The increasing use of biometrics in airports and other sites can expedite screening for many travelers and helps reduce close contact between agency personnel and the public — a priority throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics have urged caution about the technology, citing civil liberties and privacy concerns.

Bing Guan/Bloomberg
A Clear biometric screening kiosk inside Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 13, 2020.

CBP frequently reviews its programs to ensure compliance with privacy and security rules and aims to ensure transparency when biometrics are used, Miller said. It discards U.S. citizen photos within 12 hours of verifying an ID. Lawmakers recently pressed CBP to improve its promotion of travelers’ ability to opt out.

Facial Recognition at U.S. Borders Questioned on Opt-Out Clarity

The agency is working closely with private sector partners to incorporate biometrics into different stages of air travel, Miller said, adding that CBP has a facial biometric matching service that airlines, airports and the Transportation Security Administration can access. CBP plans to expand various biometrics pilot programs across the country and make them permanent, Miller said.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske outlined a similar vision at a separate event Monday, saying he sees a “fully biometric” future for domestic travel.

Pekoske expects broad use of biometrics, first in expedited TSA Pre-Check lanes and then in standard security lanes, if agency prototypes work well and travelers embrace the technology.

He stressed that TSA is rolling out biometrics on an “opt in” basis to give travelers the opportunity to consent or decline. TSA will publish an “identity management roadmap” in the coming weeks to outline government and industry partners’ vision for verifying IDs using biometrics and other technology, Pekoske said.

TSA is also on track to accept mobile driver’s licenses in March at some airports, Pekoske said during remarks at a Government Technology and Services Coalition conference. The agency is already working with Apple Inc. on a rollout for selected states and plans to partner with manufacturers and state agencies for a broader rollout, he said.

TSA previously aimed to roll out digital IDs before the holidays but said it was delayed by supply-chain problems.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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