by Mark Albert
WASHINGTON (TVR) – Customs and Border Protection is expanding its use of facial recognition at international departure gates, deploying the biometric technology on a second daily flight, with more routes to be added within weeks.
“This process… enhances our security while continuing to facilitate legitimate travel,” the acting commissioner of the CBP, Kevin McAleenan, said in a release.
CBP will use cameras on monopods to take a photo of departing passengers each day on a non-stop flight from the United States to Dubai at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
Officers began using the technology in June of 2016 on a daily Delta flight from Atlanta to Tokyo’s Narita Airport. In September, CBP switched to a daily Delta flight from Atlanta to Mexico City—screening which continues to this day.
Travelers step onto mats with a printed set of footprints. Two uniformed CBP officers staff each camera and ask a passenger for their passport.
“We are literally checking every traveler that’s leaving the country on this flight using this technology,” CBP spokesman Rob Brisley told The Voyage Report in a recent interview.
“It’s small, it’s mobile and it’s a matter of seconds for the passenger before they literally board the plane,” Brisley explained.
CBP’s Public Affairs office could not provide the cost of the trial program or say whether it has ever caught someone who was suspected of committing a crime or overstaying their visa.
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.
Facial recognition is being used primarily as a means of identification, while fingerprints collected from visitors are being used to for watchlist checks, Wagner testified.
“This innovative structure will make it possible to confirm the identity of travelers at any point in their travel, while at the same time establishing a comprehensive biometric air exit system,” Wagner told the committee.
Wagner also previewed the coming expansion of facial recognition on more flights, testifying that “this summer CBP will roll out biometric air exit technical demonstrations at a number of airports to continue biometric exit implementation.”
JetBlue said it would begin using facial recognition, in partnership with CBP, on flights to Aruba from Boston’s Logan International Airport later this month.
“CBP is leading efforts to streamline the travel process by providing the air travel industry a secure platform for identifying and matching travelers to their identities,” Brisley, a public affairs officer in Atlanta, told TVR in April.
“This biometric technology could possibly transform how travelers interact with airports, airlines and CBP—potentially creating a seamless travel process that improves both convenience and security,” he said, while adding that the agency is “accelerating” deployment.
Additional routes and airports have not yet been announced.
CBP is also partnering with tech startups to develop new biometrics technology for use in passenger screening.
Its Silicon Valley Innovation Program seeks to provide government funding “to help build seamless travel technologies that will be woven into our key programs,” CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in March.
“By working together, we can do far more to innovate and improve the traveler experience than we could ever do working apart,” McAleenan explained.
“I want to use our partnerships to spur innovation, opportunity, and collaboration and with programs like SVIP we will work at your pace rather than the government’s.”
CLEAR biometric security has already expanded to nearly two dozen U.S. airports.
It’s 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’s SkyTeam partner, GOL Airlines, is also rolling out airport biometrics this month, using facial recognition at check-in.
The airline has dubbed the feature, “Selfie Check-in” and claims it is the world’s “first app to use facial recognition to allow customers to check in” and will be available on all of its flights.
“Selfie Check-in is an example of GOL’s new model, which seeks to better respect our customers’ time by providing fast and convenient services, recognizing them as the central focus of our business,” explained Mauricio Parise, GOL’s Director of Marketing.
“We are not just following a trend; we are always seeking innovative ways to deliver more value to our customers through technology.”
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Delta is also testing airport biometrics at an increasing number of locations.
This week, the carrier announced passengers enrolled in CLEAR security could use their fingerprints instead of boarding passes to get access to the Delta Sky Club lounge at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), serving Washington, D.C.
The airport said Wednesday it plans to expand the use of biometrics at DCA to allow fingerprint baggage check and boarding at the gate.
“We’re rapidly moving toward a day when your fingerprint, iris or face will become the only ID you’ll need for any number of transactions throughout a given day,” boasted Gil West, Delta’s COO.
Last month, Delta said it would be the first airline in the U.S. to use facial recognition technology at its self-service baggage drop areas, beginning at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), one of its hubs.
The $600,000 trial this summer will match a passenger’s face with their passport photos to “securely and easily check their own bags.”
“We expect this investment and new process to save customers time,” Gareth Joyce, Delta’s Senior Vice President of Airport Customer Service and Cargo, said in a release.
“And, since customers can operate the biometric-based bag drop machine independently, we see a future where Delta agents will be freed up to seek out travelers and deliver more proactive and thoughtful customer service.”
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