The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) unveiled plans this week to expand the use of biometric technology in the country’s airports, plans that would ultimately include the general flying public. But in the meantime, the agency will start by having TSA PreCheck members submit facial images, in addition to their fingerprints, so that TSA can build up a useable database for implementing the advanced screening technology in TSA PreCheck security lanes.
As of last month, passengers who enroll in TSA PreCheck or renew their membership are now required to also provide their photograph. Once there are enough images in the database, TSA will start using applicants’ photographs to test facial biometric technology in TSA PreCheck lanes at select airports.
TSA has already begun some biometric screening testing for TSA PreCheck travelers. In June 2017, TSA tested fingerprint technology for TSA PreCheck members at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and at Denver International Airport. (TSA already collects fingerprints from PreCheck enrollees in order to conduct criminal background checks.)
TSA has begun testing facial recognition technology for international travelers as well. The agency began collaborating with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last year at John F. Kennedy International Airport and expanded testing to Los Angeles International Airport in August. The technology matches facial images to photos in government databases, such as photos obtained from passports or visa applications, in order to verify travelers’ identity and reduce the reliance on physical documents.
Additionally, Delta Air Lines has partnered with the CBP and TSA to introduce the first biometric terminal in the United States at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport later this year. Once the biometric technology is installed, Delta customers flying direct from the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal (or Terminal F) in Atlanta to an international destination will have the option of using facial recognition technology to check in at self-service kiosks, check their bags, use as identification in the TSA security line, and board their flight at any gate in Terminal F.
As for when the general domestic flying population might start to see facial recognition technology being incorporated into the check-in and security process, there are still several hurdles the TSA faces in getting there—although it is clearly determined to do so.
“Many if not most [non-TSA PreCheck domestic] travelers do not have biometric data on file with the U.S. federal government (e.g., a passport photo), posing a unique challenge for TSA and its strategic security partners,” the agency wrote in its newly released TSA Biometrics Roadmap.
The agency acknowledged that as it moves forward, it needs to conduct a thorough assessment of things such as the privacy issues and costs associated with obtaining and storing that biometric data before it begins to find ways of creating a viable facial recognition screening experience for the domestic passenger population.
With more than two million commercial aviation passengers screened each day, TSA stated that it is motivated to continue pushing the implementation of biometric screening processes forward, not least because self-service facial recognition systems reduce the reliance on physical travel documents and manual inspections that can stretch the agency’s resources.
TSA reported that is also encouraged by the fact that travelers increasingly use biometrics, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, in their daily lives to access their mobile devices, apps, and various accounts. The hope is that as biometric usage continues to become more widespread in the consumer market, travelers, too, will become more open to it and will better appreciate the convenience and security that biometric solutions can offer.