Facial recognition software now in use at all US airports

The U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) has completed the introduction of facial recognition software at all international U.S. airports. What travelers can expect in the future when entering the U.S., we clarify below.


New software provides enhanced security

CBP has announced that the implementation of biometric facial matching technology at all U.S. international airports is complete and operational. Since 2018, the border agency had begun successively equipping all international airports (160 in number) with this advanced technology.

The introduction of this new security technology was decided in order to simplify international travel on the one hand, but above all to ensure a higher security aspect. The introduction of the software is a new milestone in the biometric entry and exit program and complements the existing technologies for biometric boarding.

Biometric systems for process acceleration

Various biometric systems have already been in use at airports around the world for several years. Particularly in larger airports with a large international audience, the use of this technology at passport controls or even at check-in is intended to help speed up processes.

The new facial recognition software will complement the existing biometric system already in use at entry and exit points.

"Simplified Arrival" takes a live photo when travelers arrive and compares it with biometrically stored facial data from passport and visa images or even government documents and checks matches.

Many airlines already use similar systems for automated boarding based on biometric data. This allows travelers to check in their luggage, go through security checks, all the way to boarding their plane.

Digitized airport

In the future, processes at the airport could be so automated thanks to biometric systems that no further identification such as a passport would be needed if all data were captured via facial recognition.

To implement this uniformly, travelers would have to agree to share their personal data when booking their trip. The data provided would then be used to divide each passenger into risk groups. Passenger groups with increased risk would then be asked to disclose even more data. However, this is still pie in the sky.


Digitales Boarding Flughafen

Advantages of digitized entry

The new "Simplified Arrival" system is designed to avoid long queues at immigration controls in the U.S. and to speed up processes, since the identity of travelers can be recorded more quickly than by manual data comparison. In the future, border officials will no longer have to match the photo in the passport or visa with the traveler's appearance. The persons will be photographed at the entry counter and an automated and computer-based comparison with the entry document will then take place.

In addition, the Face ID process eliminates the need to fingerprint travelers every time they enter the country, but only when they first enter. CBP touts the use of the software as providing more privacy for travelers, as well as a fast, contactless process that "enhances the customer experience" and is more important than ever in pandemic times.

Testing phases on the new system have been underway for a couple of years, which has helped drive the modernization of air travel. To date, more than 170 million travelers have participated in the face-matching process via land, sea and air.

Procedure at the airport

According to CBP information, facial biometric matching takes place only at those points where travelers are legally required to prove their identity through travel documents.

Upon arrival at the airport, travelers are photographed at a checkpoint. A CBP officer then verifies the passport through the system. The traveler's photo is then retrieved based on existing data (for example, previous checks, visa or passport documents) and compared with the current image. After a few seconds, all data is available with an accuracy of 98%.

Body Scan Flughafen

Privacy is taken seriously

In addition, privacy is important to CBP and the agency has taken technical measures.

For example, images of U.S. citizens are to be deleted after 12 hours have elapsed, and images of non-U.S. citizens are transmitted to a secure system at the Department of Homeland Security. How long the information will be stored there for foreign travelers and how these images will actually be used, however, remains the secret of the U.S. authorities. Thus, of course, there are also critical voices about the new system.

Travelers who want to avoid the new procedure and do not want to transmit their biometric data can state this at the checkpoint and will then be checked by officials according to the old system.

In the event that it is not possible to match the photos because the system does not find any matches, the officials will use the tried and tested method to check whether the travel documents are genuine and entry is possible.

Bild von einem Fingerabdruckscanner

The Border Patrol and its responsibilities

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is responsible for managing, controlling and protecting the nation's borders.


Updated on 22.6.2022

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