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DHS agencies test airport biometric ID

Facial recognition technology used to verify identities of airline passengers entered a second phase of testing by Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Agency as the agencies prepare for .the technology's possible wider deployment.

The Traveler Verification System  (TVS) can shave 15 minutes off of traditional manual methods of comparing passenger ID photos against larger databases, according to airports and airline partners where it is being tested.

The system  compares photos of airline passengers on international departing flights against a temporary cloud-based database populated with previously captured photos of passengers scheduled for those flights. CBP sees TVS as a breakthrough for monitoring visa entry/exit status for international visitors because it unshackles the verification process from huge databases that were too unwieldy for airport locations and automates the time-consuming manual matching of the images from the database. The new system generates biometric templates of the historical images, including passport and visa photos of travelers for given flights and temporarily stores them in a manageable virtual private cloud.

Traveler participation in the process is voluntary.

The first phase of testing, which began last October, looked at the feasibility of using TVS at TSA checkpoints for identity verification.

The second phase, said CBP in a Privacy Impact Assessment document released Aug.  14, tests how passenger photo data is stored and sent to TSA's travel document checker for international outbound flights. The data from a CBP-owned camera near an agent's podium takes a picture that is transmitted to TVS, converted into a template and matched against the preassembled passenger photos taken from other documents stored on other databases. The results are sent to the TSA agent's tablet computer through a dashboard app.

CBP and TSA have been testing the system at several airports across the country since last year. Airports include Atlanta's Jackson/Hartfield International, Boston's Logan International and Los Angeles International, as well as Los Angeles International.

Because of the more compact profile of the system and time savings associated with it, airports and their airline partners testing it see it as a more attractive solution for entry/exit checks. 

In April, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board voted to set Orlando International Airport as the first U.S. airport to fully deploy CBP's Biometric Entry and Exit Program across 30 of its gates and two CBP checkpoints there, as well as setting $4 million in funding to integrate the system into those areas.

CBP said it is working closely with TSA to install signs where the voluntary system is being used to notify passengers they can opt out of the biometric screening in favor of regular TSA screening, as well as provide explanatory pamphlets for passengers.

CBP said it would purge facial images of international passengers from its secure database "as quickly as possible" and wipe the images from the TSA agent's tablet within two minutes. It said it does not keep images of U.S. citizens, but said it would retain non-U.S. citizen images on its Automated Targeting System for passenger vetting for 14 days for continued evaluation. It said it deletes all photos from the cloud database within 12 hours of a match.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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