Facial Recognition Tech Could Come To Airports Soon

The Biometric Exit program is being expedited by the Trump administration

Photo Illustration: Vocativ
Apr 19, 2017 at 11:38 AM ET

A facial recognition system called Biometric Exit could soon be used in every American airport, courtesy of the Trump administration. The program, which started being tested in the Obama administration, is reportedly intended to identify U.S. visa holders as they exit the country, aiming to nab those who entered illegally or overstayed their terms.

The Verge reports that Biometric Exit is already being used on passengers of a single flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, but a more large-scale rollout can be expected as early as this summer. Some airports, such as John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, have already been testing advanced facial recognition programs on their own.

The plan, which was originally slated for 2018, has been expedited by the Trump administration, as per the now-stayed Executive Order that President Trump signed on January 27. A lack of technical preparedness and preliminary research have been cited as reasons that a costly system like this has not yet come to fruition under the Bush and Obama administrations (first-year implementation costs are estimated to be at least $400 million) =. One billion dollars was allotted to the program in 2015.

The Trump administration cited the recommendation to implement Biometric Exit as coming from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. That refers to the 9-11 commission, which closed in 2004, and wrote in its final report that biometric identifiers could help single out members of al Qaeda who had been trained to evade detection with doctored entry-exit stamps on their visas.

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Biometric Exit would compare photographs taken of passengers as they prepare to board to a photo database of visa holders. In the absence of a match, further steps will be taken in order to find the travelers identity and visa holder status. Customs and Border Protection will use this system to find which visa holders are overstaying the time specified on their visas.

Larry Panetta, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, also said, according to The Verge, that once this infrastructure is implemented, it could also be used for other purposes — like if an airline wanted to use facial recognition to grant customers access to the company’s lounge at an airport.

Though this technology is advanced, it is still quite new. Whether or not the technology and corresponding training necessary for the mass deployment of it is questionable. The Government Accountability Office has questioned the readiness of CBP’s pilot programs, and released a report in February calling it “too early to assess [CBP’s] plans for developing and implementing a biometric exit capability” in regard to planning, infrastructure, and staffing challenges. Usage of facial recognition technology for the purpose of criminal investigations is also highly controversial, namely because of how it has been misused in the past. The algorithms used in facial recognition have also at times been found to be racially biased: African Americans are less likely to be successfully identified by these systems.