What you need to know about facial recognition at airports

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What you need to know about facial recognition at airports

As Americans become more comfortable traveling during the pandemic, international travelers may get a new identification system used by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) upon their return home in the form of biometric facial recognition. Is. Following a Congressional 9/11 Commission directive to increase border security using biometrics, CBP began scaling up the technology in 2018 in a program called Simplified Arrivals. Among other biometric measurements available, including iris scans and fingerprints, the agency selected facial recognition, which is used at airport immigration or another border checkpoint to compare to a passport picture of a traveler or a photo taken personally for Visa. Uses computer algorithms for

“We’ve automated a manual process,” said Diane Sabatino, CBP’s deputy executive assistant commissioner, who is overseeing the biometric program.

Some privacy advocates have questioned the technology’s use. Addressing equity, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, and Jeff Merkle, Democrat of Oregon, sent a letter to the agency in January requesting more information “to ensure that there is a safe, fair, and non-discriminatory relationship with flagged individuals.” -Behaves in an aggressive manner. Facial recognition software.”

The following are excerpts from an interview on the issues with Ms. Sabatino, edited for length and clarity.


When we looked at different biometric technology – fingerprints, iris and facial scan – we landed with facials because it’s such a simple process. Passengers present themselves and their documents and pose for a quick photo in seconds. Based on the discussion with the passenger about the purpose of the journey, the officer has the necessary data and can ultimately decide whether further examination is required. Now we can take advantage of a technology that is better than comparison. The official is still the final decision maker. Passengers can opt out.

It is a systematic process. One benefit is helping officers be more efficient in determining travel intent. It is also better at identifying potential fraudsters. And the third piece we didn’t consider was the added health benefits. We have a security enhancement in a time and place where individuals are already expected to present themselves for identity verification, and we are now adding touchless travel and limiting the spread of pathogens. It wasn’t something we were considering when we developed it, but it certainly made sense.

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Manual verification lasts from 10 to 30 seconds, depending on environmental factors. Someone outside on the land border may be more challenged because of the light. As we automate and refine facial recognition technology, we are taking two to three seconds to verify a match. The match is a tool in the whole process. He does not decide whether to accept the device or the need for further examination. It is the totality of authority and circumstances. The priority is safety.

Since deployment, in the approximately first three years, primarily in air passenger environments and to a lesser extent in maritime, we have identified approximately 300 fraudsters using the technology. That doesn’t mean we don’t recognize them otherwise. In the past year, at pedestrian land crossings at the southern land border, it caught about 1,000 to 1,100.

Our business use case is in identifying individuals at a time and place where they would normally be expected to present themselves for identity verification. We are not taking pictures and checking social media. Individuals are presenting passports and we have a repository using US passport photos and photos of visa applicants to tap into the gallery before their arrival and create. That’s why we build these galleries in airport and marine environments based on the information already provided for identity verification. We match this with the information we have.

And we’re making sure there’s secure encryption. When a gallery is created, that photo is not associated with any information and cannot be reverse engineered to tamper with it. The design is based on privacy measures that we knew had to be in place. Images for US citizens are kept for less than 12 hours and often many times less.

This is definitely something we are very familiar with. We have partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide information about the programme. Our high-performance algorithms show virtually no discernible difference when it comes to demographics.

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We post signage at all ports of entry. The exiting persons will have to inform the officer during the inspection. It will then revert to the manual process.

We have started it in pedestrian lanes at land borders. In the air environment, we’re covering about 99 percent with simplified arrival. The land limit is the last frontier. We have just completed a 120-day pilot at Car Lane in Hidalgo, Texas, and we will be evaluating the result. At cruise terminals, we’re in the 90 percent range. We are working with nine major carriers on eight ports of entry, including Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, all in Florida.

We welcome inquiries from privacy advocacy groups. We want to be able to tell and share the story about the investments we’ve made with respect to privacy. There are so many myths and so much misinformation out there that we deal with surveillance. Whenever new technology is introduced, there are always legitimate concerns. We welcome those questions. They help us give better answers when we are building these systems.

Elaine Glusack writes the Thrifty Traveler column. follow him on instagram @eglusac,

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