Civic News

The Philly airport is piloting face-scanning technology on some international flights

PHL is testing three facial recognition programs and will implement one in the spring for some international travelers.

Welcome to Philadelphia International Airport. (Photo via @PHLAirport on Twitter, 2017)

As of next Tuesday, the Philadelphia International Airport will begin piloting face-scanning technology at a handful of international gates, it announced this week.

The initiative is part of a partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to roll out biometric screening, better known as facial recognition technology. The airport will be testing three different scanning machines over the next few months, and will chose which it feels works best for ongoing use.

The scanning technology is designed to verify a traveler’s ID by cross-checking its scans with photos on file with the federal government. CBP has been mandated by federal law to use biometric exit screenings for foreign nationals (excluding Canadian citizens who don’t require a visa to enter the U.S. and diplomatic and government visa holders), the airport said.

Beginning next week, the three types of biometric systems — veriScan, NEC and SITA — will be used for a handful of flights on Qatar Airways, British Airways, Lufthansa and American Airlines that depart from gates A15, A16 and A17. The program includes an iPad-like device that’s mounted on boarding gate kiosks.

Passengers will walk toward the scanner, and the device will compare their image to a database, where a match will clear the passenger. The program will be implemented on departing flights, the airport said, and CBP discards all photos of U.S. citizens within 12 hours of identity verification.

Biometrics company veriScan touts a 98.5 % success rate with more than 1.1 million passengers scanned on 8,223 at 41 airlines.

The airport said in its statement about the program that “travelers who do not wish to participate in this facial comparison process may notify a CBP Officer or an airline or airport representative in order to seek an alternative means of verifying their identities and documents.”

The stated goal of the program is to help expedite check in, and the pilot program is accompanied by digital instruction signs, which will include multimedia and bilingual content and instructions for the scanners.

“The signs are expected to increase effectiveness and engagement during the screening process by facilitating passenger flow and decreasing the need for gate agents to use the passenger address system,” the airport said.

The pilot is also a step toward increased border control, as Billy Penn points out:

Biometric tracking of immigrant foreigners into and out of the U.S. has been required by law since 2004, but throughout the Obama administration, the information collected was restricted to fingerprints and photos.

Under the Trump administration, efforts ramped up. Since beginning to roll out its facial recognition program at airports in 2017, CPB said it’s apprehended seven “imposters,” traveling while pretending to be someone else.

The facial scanning pilot begins Jan. 21, and will continue through May. The airport said it may take up to a year to fully implement the chosen program.

Companies: Philadelphia International Airport

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