by Mark Albert
WASHINGTON (TVR) – The Transportation Security Administration has deployed fingerprint scanners at several airport passenger checkpoints, part of a rapidly expanding effort to use biometrics at nearly every stage of flight and increase border security.
The TSA installed the new screening technology this week at a Pre-check lane at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and at a lane at Denver International Airport (DEN) as part of a “proof of concept demonstration,” the agency said in a release.
Travelers enrolled in the Pre-check program can use their fingerprints to bring up their boarding pass information, although those who participate in the voluntarily trial still must have their paper or electronic boarding pass and ID checked by a TSA officer.
The TSA intends to “evaluate the operational and security impact of using biometrics to verify passengers’ identities using their fingerprints.”
“TSA looks at technologies and intelligence capabilities that allow us to analyze and secure the travel environment, passengers and their property,” explained Steve Karoly, TSA Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis.
“Through these and other technology demonstrations, we are looking to reinvent and enhance security effectiveness to meet the evolving threat and ensure that passengers get to their destinations safely,” Karoly said in the statement.
If the trial proves successful, TSA foresees a day when passengers can go through airport screening at an electronic gate using only their fingerprints, thereby automating one of the most time-consuming parts of an airport checkpoint that frequently leads to long lines.
Andrew Farrelly, the former director of Targeting Programs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center during the Obama administration, thinks the fingerprint pilot program is a key step in enhancing border security.
“The new program is the latest of a series of steps aimed at understanding not only who is entering, but also who is leaving the country,” Farrelly told The Voyage Report.
“Knowing who is leaving the country more accurately and in real time will help CBP, among other things, identify visa overstays and wanted criminals that are trying to flee,” said Farrelly, who is the co-founder of CT Strategies, a border management consulting firm.
CBP’s Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner testified before Congress last month that it has made “substantial improvements” to identifying and addressing confirmed overstays.
Wagner told the House Homeland Security Committee that 739,478 non-U.S. citizens did not leave the country when they were supposed to in fiscal year 2016, which is an overstay rate of 1.47%.
There were more than 50 million nonimmigrant visitors to the United States during that time.
By January of this year, Wagner said the overstays were down to 544,676, for a rate of 1.07%—lower, he pointed out, than Canada or Mexico.
The TSA said it may expand the fingerprint security checks to other airports, depending on the results of the pilot programs in Atlanta and Denver.
It’s the latest expansion of biometrics at America’s airports, including at check-in, bag drop, security screening, lounge access, and boarding gates using facial recognition, fingerprint readers, and iris scans.
JetBlue is teaming up with CBP this month to use facial recognition for “self-boarding” on one daily flight to Aruba.
GOL Airlines, a partner of Delta, is now using facial recognition for “Selfie check-in” on all domestic and international flights.
The Atlanta-based carrier is also using facial recognition on a trial test at its self-service baggage drop area at its hub at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).
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In addition, a spokesman for CBP tells The Voyage Report it is “accelerating” deployment of facial recognition cameras at boarding gates for passengers leaving the country by air.
The cameras are already in use at the boarding door of one flight a day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) headed to Mexico City, a flight at Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Dubai, and a JetBlue flight from Boston International Airport (BOS) to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba (AUA).
The agency tells The Voyage Report it will implement the program “at additional airports over the course of the next several months.”
A private security company is also expanding passenger biometrics into more airports.
CLEAR biometric security is a privately-run service that allows travelers to move to the front of the security line at airport checkpoints, for an annual fee.
Travelers do not need to show ID, only a boarding pass and either a fingerprint or iris scan.
Delta purchased a 5% stake in the company last year and is rolling out CLEAR kiosks at its most-travelled airports.
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