Canadian airports implementing facial recognition technology this spring

March 3, 2017 - 

Major Canadian airports will be implementing facial recognition technology this spring as part of Canada Border Services Agency’s new traveller screening program, according to a report by the CBC.

The self-service border clearance kiosks will identify all travellers entering and returning to Canada in an effort to streamline clearance procedures at the country’s airports.

The new kiosks will eventually replace the more limited kiosks that are currently being used at airports.

“The new kiosks will improve border security, as well as assist in reducing wait times and congestion at Canada’s busiest airports,” CBSA said in a statement.

The kiosks will first be installed at Ottawa International Airport this spring, according to multiple sources, and then expanded to other airports moving into 2018, CBSA said.

Under development since at least 2015, the Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) program “will provide automated traveller risk assessment”, according to a CBSA tender describing the program.

The facial recognition technology is apparently similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 1-to-1 Facial Comparison Project (https://www.dhs.gov/publication/facial-recognition-air-entry-pilot), which takes a photo of the traveler’s face and compares it with the image stored on the chip embedded in their electronic passport.

In the case of the DHS’ facial recognition technology, the traveler’s images are only retained if the two images do not match well.

There are few details about how Canada’s new kiosks will work as CBSA are not currently addressing specific questions about the PIK program. The department said that “further details will be announced publicly before the official launch,” along with another announcement to follow “in the coming weeks.”

International airports in Toronto, Quebec City, and Ottawa are all readying the installation of the new kiosks and have submitted requests to technology suppliers, according to public records.

Meanwhile, Vancouver International Airport is developing its own self-service kiosks featuring Borderxpress technology, which “has the capability to meet any government’s — Canadian or other — biometric requirements including facial, iris and fingerprint recognition,” according to Vancouver Airport Authority spokesperson Tess Messmer. The technology is already being used in some airport kiosks across the country.

Vision-Box, which is installing 130 kiosks at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, has been working closely with CBSA on research and development for the past couple years, said Jean-François Lennon, vice-president of sales and business development at Vision-Box.

Lennon expects the company’s new kiosks, which can also capture iris data for all NEXUS travelers, to be available for use at Pearson in May.

He said the specifications for CBSA’s PIK program will be conducted in two phases comprising of facial recognition and fingerprint biometrics.

An airline industry employee familiar with the new kiosks confirmed that facial recognition will be part of Phase One, however, could not confirm whether Phase Two will consist of fingerprint biometrics.

Several privacy experts have raised concerns regarding whether the kiosks’ facial recognition feature will be used as intended.

“The problem’s going to be, once that’s created, the capability is a general one that can be used in other contexts,” said Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. “And historically … once we have the technical capability, we haven’t been very good at limiting it to that use.”

The kiosks are also expected to significantly reduce the number of traveler interviews with border agents at primary inspection.

Previously reported, Canada began an under-the-radar lobbying campaign in January against the Trump administration’s planned biometric screening initiative for all visitors to the United States upon both entry and exit.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.