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Facial Recognition Heading to US Airports

A new project may lead to facial geometry scans at every US Airport.

In 2015, the TSA at Dulles International Airport began experimenting with facial recognition scans. The system was then expanded to New York’s JFK International Airport last year. Face-recognition systems then made its way to Ottawa International Airport this spring, and British Airways will be rolling out a system at Heathrow Intl. which will compare photos of passengers to ensure that the same person who passed security is the one boarding the plane. Now, the TSA has announced a project that may see facial geometry scans at every US airport for visa holders boarding international flights.

The system, called Biometric Exit, will use facial matching systems to identify every visa holder as they leave the country. Immediately before boarding, a photo will be taken of the passenger, which is then compared to a photo on the visa application. If there’s no match, there’s a possibility that the traveler entered the country illegally. Currently, the system is being tested on a single flight between Atlanta and Tokyo after being expedited by the Trump Administration. Biometric Exit is expected to expand to more airports during the summer, and eventually to every airport and border crossing in the country.

“Facial recognition is the path forward we’re working on,” said US Customs and Border Protection’s Larry Panetta, at a border crossing expo earlier this week. “We currently have everyone’s photo, so we don’t need to do any sort of enrollment. We have access to the Department of State records so we have photos of US Citizens, we have visa photos, we have photos of people when they cross into the US and their biometrics are captured into [DHS biometric database] IDENT.”

A biometric security gate at Heathrow

Biometric Exit has been discussed in one form or another for a long time, but it was only recently that efforts began to push towards facial recognition. As late as February, four different approaches to Biometric Exit were being discussed. The reason facial recognition was chosen as opposed to, say, fingerprinting, is because everyone knows how to take a picture. You may have to educate people if you want them to submit fingerprints, and that means extra hassle, spending, and complications. Visa holders have actually been photographed and finger printed for several years now, but there’s no similar system in place for ensuring that visa holders leave the country before their visa expires. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that roughly half a million visitors each year overstay their visas, but with no exit check, there’s no way to know for sure.

The system could be beneficial beyond visa checks however. “Right now, other than the no-fly list, you do not have law enforcement checks on who can fly,” says Alvaro Bedoya, who studies facial recognition at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. “But once you take that high-quality photograph, why not run it against the FBI database? Why not run it against state databases of people with outstanding warrants? Suddenly you’re moving from this world in which you’re just verifying identity to another world where the act of flying is cause for a law enforcement search.”

source: International Business Times

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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