Airport Biometrics Tech Not Quite Ready For Prime Time


A new report revealed that Homeland Security’s face scanning airport security program is facing “technical and operational challenges” and might not be ready to launch nationwide by its estimated completion in 2021.

Homeland Security’s inspector general said that while Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is making “considerable progress” in launching the airport scanning facial recognition technology, which is designed to track all departing travelers from the U.S., the program has some significant issues.

“During the pilot, CBP encountered various technical and operational challenges that limited biometric confirmation to only 85 percent of all passengers processed,” the report said. “These challenges included poor network availability, a lack of dedicated staff, and compressed boarding times due to flight delays.”

The report added that the scanners failed to “consistently match individuals of certain age groups or nationalities.”

Due to these issues, CBP “may be unable to meet expectations for achieving full operational capability, including biometrically processing 100 percent of all international passengers at the 20 busiest airports.”

However, a CBP spokesperson told reporters that the agency has made “significant advancements” since the report, and says the biometric matching now averages at 97 percent.

In fact, last month facial recognition technology helped U.S. border agents catch a traveler posing as a French citizen.

The incident happened at Washington Dulles International Airport, which is one of 14 “early adopter” airports for the facial recognition technology. It involved a 26-year-old man “traveling from Sao Paulo, Brazil (who) presented a French passport to the CBP officer conducting primary inspections.” The agency’s facial recognition authentication system determined that the man did not match the identity on the passport.

“The CBP officer referred the traveler to secondary for a comprehensive examination,” the statement said. “In secondary, CBP officers noted the traveler’s behavior changed and he became visibly nervous. A search revealed the man’s authentic Republic of Congo identification card concealed in his shoe.”