CBP Expands Facial Recognition for Global Entry Travelers

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The technology is already being used at 15 airports—including three abroad—to speed pre-approved travelers through the customs process.

Over the last few years, Customs and Border Protection has been rolling out facial recognition programs at ports of entry across the country, including the nation’s international airports. Now, the agency is increasing the use of the technology for its optional Global Entry program.

The Global Entry program allows frequent travelers who are considered “low risk” to bypass CBP officers and go directly to baggage claim after visiting a kiosk. To date, Global Entry at most airports consists of scanning the traveler’s passport and fingerprint at the machine before being cleared to enter the country.

Going forward, CBP will be streamlining that process, instead offering travelers pre-approved through the program the ability to use facial biometrics for clearance, eliminating the need for a passport or fingerprint.

CBP started implementing facial recognition for Global Entry through a pilot program at Orlando International Airport in June 2018. Since that time, the program has expanded to 14 more airports, including two in Ireland and one in the Bahamas (full list below).

On Monday, the agency released a privacy impact statement detailing how the program will roll out at airports across the country, becoming the standard for Global Entry.

The kiosks used for the Global Entry program already have cameras that take photos of travelers, though many will be upgraded or replaced as the program expands. As the facial recognition program rolls out, these kiosks will default to using that technology. CBP also plans to include privacy notices on the upgraded machines informing travelers of the new process.

Once a photo is taken, the image is matched against a gallery compiled from CBP’s Automated Targeting System, or ATS, Unified Passenger Module, or UPAX, system.

“CBP may have captured these images from U.S. passports or visas, previous entry inspections, and/or other DHS encounters, including Global Entry enrollment photos,” according to the privacy statement. “The [Traveler Verification Service] then generates a biometric template for each gallery photograph and stores the template, but not the actual photograph, in the TVS cloud for matching when the traveler arrives at the Global Entry kiosk.”

The images taken at the kiosk are saved to the Homeland Security Department’s massive Automated Biometric Identity System, or IDENT, which the agency is the process of transferring to a new, cloud-based Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology, or HART, system.

“When comparing photos for a facial recognition match, TVS uses travel document photos as well as recently taken photos to improve accuracy because up to date photos may match better than document photos,” the privacy document states.

Per the impact statement, the shift to using facial recognition would lower the privacy risk to travelers, as the program already took photos at the kiosks and no longer needs to collect fingerprints.

An important note in the impact statement clarifies that enrollees are not required to use the facial recognition program and can instead opt to use the passport and fingerprint method, which will remain available. A CBP spokesperson also told Nextgov the kiosks will default to the passport and fingerprint method if there is a technical problem with the facial recognition scan.

Travelers are also still required to provide a copy of their passport and fingerprints at the time of enrollment in Global Entry.

Current list of participating airports:

  • Aruba–Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA)
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
  • Dublin Airport, Ireland (DUB)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • Houston–Hobby International Airport (HOU)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston (IAH)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (JFK)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Nassau–Sir Lynden Pindling International Airport, Bahamas (NAS)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • Shannon Airport, Ireland (SNN)