U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has completed the expansion of biometric facial comparison technology at all international airports across the United States to further secure and streamline international travel. This innovation effort is a critical milestone for the biometric Entry/Exit program and complements biometric boarding, which is currently at select departure locations.
Simplified Arrival is an enhanced international arrival process that uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States. This process provides travelers with a secure, more touchless travel experience while fulfilling a longstanding Congressional mandate to biometrically record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens. In addition, foreign travelers who have traveled to the United States previously may no longer need to provide fingerprints, as their identity will be confirmed through the touchless facial biometric process.
In January, CBP announced the implementation of Simplified Arrival at six airports in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee: Rogers Municipal Carter Field Airport, Lakefront Airport, Alexandria (Louisiana) International Airport, Gulfport Biloxi International Airport, Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, and Memphis International Airport.
“I am very proud that CBP accomplished this critical milestone to deploy facial biometrics at entry at all U.S. airports and continues to play a significant role in the travel recovery efforts,” said Diane J. Sabatino, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, CBP. “The use of facial biometrics for identity verification brings travelers one step closer to a truly touchless process that is secure and streamlines travel while protecting their privacy and enhancing the customer experience.”
CBP and its stakeholder partners have been expanding the use of facial biometrics through public/partnerships to further secure and streamline travel well before the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the biometric exit mandate while supporting air travel modernization efforts. Given the need for safe and touchless processes in air travel, CBP expedited the expansion of Simplified Arrival to provide travelers the benefits of secure, touchless technology, which became even more critical during the pandemic.
The biometric facial comparison process occurs only at a time and place where travelers are already required by law to verify their identity by presenting a travel document. When a traveler arrives at an international airport, he or she will pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. A CBP officer will review and query the travel document, which will retrieve the traveler’s passport or visa photo from government holdings and compare it to the new photo. This enhanced process using facial biometrics only takes a few seconds and is more than 98% accurate.
In addition to the rollout at airports, Simplified Arrival is also in use at other ports of entry, where it has proven to be beneficial. For example, CBP officers using Simplified Arrival at the Pacific Highway Port of Entry intercepted an impostor attempting to cross the border from Canada into the United States on November 26. An officer detected a facial mismatch while processing a passenger in the bus terminal. Upon further investigation, the woman admitted to using her sister’s U.S. passport and COVID-19 vaccination card because she had not been vaccinated.
In line with its privacy obligations, CBP has taken steps to safeguard the privacy of all travelers. CBP has employed strong technical security safeguards and has limited the amount of personally identifiable information used in the facial biometric process. New photos of U.S. citizens will be deleted within 12 hours. Photos of most foreign nationals will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system.
U.S. travelers and foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics and wish to opt out of the new biometric process can simply notify a CBP officer as they approach the primary inspection point. These travelers will be required to present a valid travel document for inspection by a CBP officer and will be processed consistent with existing requirements for admission into the United States.
Simplified Arrival pairs one of the industry’s highest ranked facial comparison algorithms (as assessed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology) with trained CBP officers who are skilled at verifying the authenticity of travel documents. If a traveler cannot be matched to a photo on record using the Simplified Arrival process, the traveler will proceed through the traditional inspection process consistent with existing requirements for admission into the United States.
To date, more than 171 million travelers have participated in the biometric facial comparison process at air, land, and seaports of entry. Since September 2018, CBP has leveraged facial biometrics to prevent more than 1,450 imposters from illegally entering the United States by using genuine travel documents that were issued to other people.
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