line in airport (06photo/

CBP plans 2018 facial recognition rollout

Customs and Border Protection is building on a facial recognition pilot program and aims to have the technical capability to support biometric exit at the top 20 U.S. airports by early next year, according to Michael Hardin, deputy director of CBP’s Entry/Exit Transformation Office.

“It will depend on what airports modernize and their willingness to work with us --  with individual airlines having a role in it too,” Hardin said at the Sept. 12 AFCEA Federal Identity Forum.  “We see 'fully functioning' as getting to the majority of flights at the top 20 airports.”

Hardin said the agency is interested in partnerships similar to its agreement with JetBlue, which allows passengers exiting the country to have their pictures taken at a camera station in lieu of being issued a boarding pass.  The photos are sent to CBP for verification under a process that takes “two seconds with a good degree of accuracy," he added. CBP is able to get the airline manifest with 200 to 500 passengers and has a “high 90 percentage” success rate in terms of photo availability and matching.

On June 12, Jet Blue initiated its paperless boarding process in Boston at Logan International Airport, and Delta began a similar system at John F. Kennedy in New York. The initial demonstrations also included Washington Dulles, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, William P. Hobby in Houston, Chicago O’Hare and McCarran in Las Vegas. Removing the boarding pass eliminates one of the “friction points” in the boarding process, which Hardin said makes airlines interested in the technology. 

With the top 20 airports participating in the facial recognition program, Hardin said CBP will be able to track 97 percent of all volume from international flights.

“Smaller airports could have a handheld device for fingerprints that could substitute for a flown-blown system since they only have a few [international] flights a day,” Hardin said.

CBP is also using  biometrics to identify people crossing the border by land from Mexico and Canada.  Two facial recognition pilots will be conducted in Arizona in December to authenticate pedestrians frequently moving between the U.S. and Mexico.

“These pilots are meant for people that we see every day, and we will try on-the-move and stationary environments to see how it can work,” Hardin said.

Efforts are also underway to establish a process with Mexico to share data on border crossings.

“With Canada, we have an existing our-entry-is-your-exit process, so we can each flip the data and those become the exits for each country,” Hardin said.  “The Mexico process isn’t as comprehensive, but we are working to share the data that [we both] collect for entries and exits.”

Note: This article was updated on Sept. 21 to clarify CBP's rollout plans.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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