As Americans travel more comfortably during the pandemic, international travelers may find a new identification system used by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon their return house in the form of biometric face recognition. Following a directive from the Congressional 9/11 Commission to enhance border security using biometrics, CBP began developing the technology in 2018 in a program called Come simple. Among other biometric measurements available, including iris and fingerprint scanning, the agency opted for facial recognition, which uses a computer algorithm to compare a photo taken directly at an immigration airport or a border checkpoint different gender from the tourist’s passport or visa photo.
“We have automated a manual process,” said Diane Sabatino, CBP’s deputy executive assistant commissioner, who is overseeing the biometrics program.
Some privacy advocates have questioned the use of the technology. Addressing the issue of equity, Senators Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, and Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, submitted a alphabet to the agency in January to request more information “to ensure that flagged individuals are treated in a safe, fair, and non-intrusive manner due to facial recognition software imperfections. “
The following is an excerpt of an interview on issues with Ms. Sabatino, edited for length and clarity.
Why was facial recognition chosen over other forms of biometrics?
When we looked at different biometric technologies – fingerprint, iris, and face scan – we landed on face because it was such a simple process. Travelers present themselves and their documents and create a quick photo in seconds. Officers have the data they need based on a discussion with the traveler about the purpose of the trip and can ultimately make a decision on whether further checks are needed. Now we can make better use of technology for comparison. The officer is still the final decision maker. Visitors can choose not to participate.
What are the benefits of using technology?
It’s a streamlined process. One benefit is to help officers be more efficient in determining travel intentions. It is also better at identifying potential impostors. And the third part we didn’t contemplate was the additional health benefits. We have increased security in place at the time and place where individuals were expected to present for identity verification and now we are adding touchless travel and limiting the spread of the virus. spread of pathogens. It’s not something we had in mind when developing it, but it certainly makes sense.
Usually how much time will a tourist spend checking in?
Manual verification takes between 10 and 30 seconds, depending on environmental factors. Someone outside of land borders may have more of a challenge because of the light. As we automate and refine our facial recognition technology, it takes us two to three seconds to verify a match. The match is a tool in the whole process. That tool does not make an admission decision or require further testing. It is official and the totality of the situation. The priority is security.
How many fakers has technology identified?
Since its implementation, in the first three years or so, mainly in the air passenger environment and to some extent in the maritime, we have identified around 300 impersonators using this technology. That’s not to say we won’t be able to identify them. During the last year, at pedestrian crossings on the southern land border, this number caught between 1,000 and 1,100.
Critics fear digital systems will be used for surveillance. How are you ensuring privacy?
Our business use case is to identify individuals at the time and place they would normally expect to appear for identity verification. We do not take social media images and collages. Individuals are showing passports and we have an archive to mine and build galleries before they arrive using US passport photos and photos of people who have applied for visas . So we built these galleries in airport and marine environments based on the information already provided for identity verification. We match it with the information we have.
And we guarantee secure encryption. When a gallery is created, the photo is not attached to any information and cannot be reverse engineered to be compromised. The design is based on security measures that we know are a must. Photos for US citizens are kept for less than 12 hours and often several times less.
How do you handle the threat of unconscious bias in programming, which could lead to higher error rates for some groups, including people of color?
That’s definitely something we’re very interested in. We have partnered with Institute of Standards and Technology to provide program information. Our high-performance algorithms show almost no provable difference when it comes to demographics.
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How are travelers notified that they can opt out?
We put up signage at all entrances. Individuals who choose not to participate should notify the officer at the time of the inspection. It will then revert to the manual process.
Is technology at all border checkpoints?
We have deployed it on pedestrian lanes on land borders. In the air, we’re covering about 99 percent with the Simplified Arrival Feature. The land border is the final frontier. We’ve just completed a 120-day pilot in auto lanes in Hidalgo, Texas, and we’ll be evaluating the results. At cruise terminals, we’re in the 90 percent range. We are working with 9 major carriers at 8 ports of entry, including Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, all in Florida.
How do you address biometric skeptics?
We welcome scrutiny from privacy advocates. We want to be able to tell and share the story of the investment we’ve made in regards to privacy. There are a lot of myths and too much misinformation out there, including what we do with surveillance. Whenever new technology is rolled out, there are always legitimate concerns. We welcome those questions. They help us respond better as we build these systems.
Elaine Glusac writes a column for budget travelers. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/travel/facial-recognition-airports-customs.html What you need to know about facial recognition at the airport