facial recognition technology (metamorworks/Shutterstock.com)

Biometrics key to White House strategy on combatting terrorist travel

On Feb. 20, the White House released the National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel, which will rely on validating identities and leveraging biometric ID systems to detect and stop terrorists as they travel.

The whole-of-government approach aims to equip state, local and tribal partners with "terrorism-identity and travel data, as well as the tools and technology necessary to identify terrorists at the earliest opportunity," the strategy said. That information will come from improved identity-management systems and the expanded collection of suspicious travel indicators as well as "biometric, biographic, and derogatory data for vetting and screening."

Vetting, according to the document, includes "automated biographic and/or biometric matching against watchlists and threat information as well as manual and automated processes used to resolve potential matches and false positives."

Such biometric vetting is already being rolled out by Customs and Border Protection and has identified people attempting to travel with falsified ID.

CBP's new facial recognition systems that verify passenger identities at U.S. airports have gotten attention for nabbing imposters, and the agency said its trial of the technology at a southern border crossing is also yielding results.

The facial recognition system implemented a few months ago on a trial basis at the Port of San Luis border crossing near Yuma, Ariz., identified an alleged imposter on Feb. 19 trying to use a passport that didn't belong to him to enter the U.S.

Last October, the port began a technical trial of the same technologies that CBP has been deploying since 2017 at 14 "early adopter" airports across the U.S.

At airports, the tech compares photos of airline passengers on international departing flights against a temporary cloud-based database populated with previously captured photos of passengers. It works much the same way for pedestrians crossing the border. Images of each pedestrian at the crossing are compared with their photos of record documents, such as passports.

The system at the San Luis crossing flagged a mismatch when it compared a facial image of a supposed 22-year-old Colorado man who presented a valid U.S. passport travel card to the CBP officer at the crossing. The man's image captured on the facial recognition system didn't match the passport's historical record photo when the two images were compared by customs officers at the crossing.

The man was identified as an 18-year-old El Salvador native.

The alleged imposter wasn't the first to be nabbed by the trial, a CBP spokesman told FCW, GCN's sibling site. That happened last October, only a few days after the system was installed on Sept. 24.

The spokesman couldn't immediately provide the total number of imposters identified using facial recognition between last September and this February.

CBP is expanding the technical trial of the systems along the southern border. It plans to add another technical demonstration to an exit lane at the San Luis crossing later this spring. Shortly after the San Luis trial began, the agency set up another system at the Port of Nogales Dennis DeConcini Crossing further east in Arizona.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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