US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is expanding its federally mandated rollout of facial recognition biometric exit technology to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) division said July 11.

CBP implemented the technology at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) June 17 and at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) June 2, and plans to continue further deployments at additional airports over the summer. At O’Hare, CBP said it would utilize the technology only on “select flights from ORD.” In Houston, CBP said is operating the technology on one daily flight from the US to Tokyo, and at Dulles, CBP is implementing it on one daily flight from the US to Dubai. 

The rollout follows tests originally conducted at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in June 2016, as part of a DHS mandate issued in July 2015 to create a biometric entry and exit system to record the arrival and departure of “certain aliens.”

As detailed by CBP, “using the flight manifest, CBP builds a flight specific photo gallery using photographs from the travel document the traveler provided to the airline. CBP then compares the live photo against the document photo in the gallery to ensure the traveler is the true bearer of the document. If the photo captured at boarding is matched to a US passport, the traveler—having been confirmed as a US citizen—is automatically determined to be out of scope for biometric exit purposes and the photo is discarded after a short period of time.”

“Through our consultations with the airlines and airport stakeholders, and based on the success of several pilots, CBP determined that facial recognition was a viable exit solution,” CBP deputy executive assistant commissioner-office of field operations John Wagner said. “With the expansion of this technology we will be looking at different flights, airports, lighting conditions, and internal IT configurations to demonstrate to our stakeholders that this solution is flexible, reliable and easy for travelers to use.”

According to CBP, “the primary mission of any biometric exit program is to provide assurance of traveler identity on departure, giving CBP the opportunity to match the departure with a prior arrival record. This capability enhances the integrity of the immigration system and the ability to accurately detect travelers that have overstayed their lawful period of admission to the United States.”

New York-based JetBlue and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines are both working with CBP in trial programs to integrate facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process.

Delta is testing eGates at New York JFK and at ATL; the airline is also introducing biometric self-service bag drop technology at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). 

JetBlue is testing facial recognition technology at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) that allows passengers on flights from Boston to Aruba to self-board without scanning a boarding pass.

Recently, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began tests of biometric fingerprint identification technology at two US airport checkpoint lanes—one at ATL and another at Denver International Airport (DEN).

Additional US airports under consideration for rollout of the biometric exit technology include Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Miami International Airport (MIA), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

Mark Nensel