Customs and Border Protection is analyzing the distance between travelers’ eyes and the width of their foreheads to better track international travelers.
This week the agency began using facial recognition technology at Bush Intercontinental Airport on one daily flight departing Houston for Tokyo.
“The use of biometrics is approaching an almost everyday type of experience,” said Henry Harteveldt, founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company. “It’s much more common now than it was 10 to 20 years ago.”
Similar technology is increasingly used everywhere. For instance, fingerprints are used to unlock phones and access secure banking information. Facebook can automatically recognize and tag friends in photos. And a variety of airport entities, ranging from airlines to the Transportation Security Administration, also are using biometric data to enhance security and expedite traveling.
Some still question the reliability of facial recognition technology, but it has evolved over the years and continues improving.
Delta and JetBlue recently announced collaborations with Customs and Border Protection to integrate facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process. And Customs began piloting its own facial recognition technology in June 2016 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The technology then was rolled out at Washington Dulles International Airport in May 2017, and seven additional airports will receive the technology in the next several months.
Customs “sees potential for the technology to transform the travel process provided privacy issues can be addressed,” an agency spokesperson said in an email.
“The use of biometrics to confirm identity from the beginning to the end of travel has the potential to reduce the frequency travelers have to present travel documents throughout the airport.”
Currently, the system takes pictures of individual travelers right before they board an international flight. That photo is then compared with a flight-specific photo gallery Customs and Border Protection created using travel documents passengers provided to the airline.
Officials say capturing this type of biometric information will ensure travelers aren’t lying about their identity. And the agency spokesperson emphasized that Customs worked closely with its privacy office. If the photo captured at boarding is matched to a U.S. passport, the photo of that traveler – having been confirmed as a U.S. citizen – is discarded after a short period of time.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any resistance by consumers to this,” Harteveldt said, “provided they’re given very clear explanations about what information is being collected, why it’s being collected and a high-level understanding of the safeguards that will be taken to keep their biometrics data safe and secure.”
Opinions vary on whether capturing such data from departing travelers will boost security or hurt airlines’ on-time performance. But the point is moot. Laws requiring exit control have been on the books for many years.
“It is already required by law, and it has taken way too long to implement an effective exit technology,” said Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that pushes for stricter immigration controls.
He said monitoring foreign travelers as they leave the U.S. helps enforce immigration laws. And if visitors enter the country legally but officials later realize they pose a threat, this exit system will tell officials if they are still in the U.S.
Harteveldt, however, said passport and visa information is already collected when travelers leave the country. He doesn’t believe biometrics are needed.”I’m just not sure it adds a lot of value to the exit process,” he said.
But compared with fingerprint technology, Harteveldt said facial scanning can be faster and cleaner. There’s no need to touch anything. Customs officers at Bush Intercontinental began taking the fingerprints of some departing international travelers in 2015.
Anthony Roman, president of global investigation and risk management firm Roman & Associates, said the best type of security is layered and uses cross-verification, such as a Customs and Border Protection officer checking passports, fingerprinting machines and facial recognition technology.
As for the latter, he said developers claim to have solved problems found in the older facial recognition technology. These past problems included false readings caused by a shadow on the face, blinking at the wrong time or even grimacing. Algorithms were also slow at processing the data.
The new technology is supposed to be faster and more accurate. “Whether that’s true or not, time will tell,” Roman said.
Arthur is still waiting to see that facial recognition technology is as reliable as fingerprinting. He wants to know the number of false positives and if facial recognition technology is affected by haircuts, beards or glasses.
They both agree, however, that the vigilance is warranted.
“Our technology needs to keep evolving,” Roman said. “We need to keep changing what we’re doing. It makes it more difficult for the insurgents to create long-term research and development projects to overcome existing technology.” Source: Houston Chronicle
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