The Donald Trump administration is planning to expand the use of biometric facial recognition systems at airports around the United States.
News of the expansion comes from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Larry Panetta, who spoke about adoption of facial recognition technology at the Border Security Expo.
“We currently have everyone’s photo, so we don’t need to do any sort of enrollment,” Panetta said. “We have access to the Department of State records so we have photos of US Citizens, we have visa photos, we have photos of people when they cross into the US and their biometrics are captured into [Department of Homeland Security database] IDENT.”
The project to equip airports around the country with facial recognition systems is known as Biometric Exit. Under the proposed plan, passengers would be required to have their photos taken before boarding a plane. That photo is cross-referenced with a database of photos to confirm the traveler’s identity.
If there is no match in the system for the person’s photo, it might mean they are attempting to enter the country illegally.
Biometric Exit is currently being tested on a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo. If all goes well, the Trump administration is expected to rapidly introduce it in airports across the U.S. this summer, with the eventual goal of scanning travelers on every international flight that touches down in the U.S.
The expansion was first laid out in the President’s executive order that also banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries.
The program isn’t necessarily new, nor is the use of biometrics at the border. CBP agents often use photos from visa applications and fingerprints to check and confirm the identity of people entering or returning to the U.S. from abroad. Biometric Exit would expedite that process, scanning travelers quicker and more efficiently than border agents are able to.
Biometric testing is just the latest in expanded and potentially invasive methods of border security encouraged by the Trump administration. Border agents have also taken to more frequently searching the electronic devices of travelers in order to check messages and social media feeds for any alarming content. Data from CPB showed searches of smartphones and laptops at the border have nearly doubled in the last six months.