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Customs and Border Protection entry/exit program pilot successful


U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has found a feasible solution for a biometric entry/exit program, CBP Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations John Wagner told a congressional committee meeting on visa overstays last week.

As previously reported, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that 629,000 visitors to the U.S. overstayed their visas in 2016 due to the lack of a biometric exit system.

A program piloted at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in which a facial image is captured and compared to a database without first reading the travelers passport, has processed 28,000 people with accuracy in the “high ninetieth percentile,” Wagner said.

“We figured out a better way to position the data we already have on travelers to make the inspection process a lot more efficient. In non-technical terms, we moved the biometrics of the traveler expected to be on a departing flight out of the DHS [Office of Biometric Identity Management] database and into its own temporary secure database until we encounter the person,” Wagner told the House Homeland Security Committee on Border Security.

Wagner said the greatest challenge was working within the restrictions dictated by the existing airport environment, and finding “that single magic piece of technology that would accomplish our needs.” Performing the match at the same point, but against a database rather than a screened passport makes the process faster and the infrastructure footprint smaller, according to Wagner. Fingerprints from foreign nationals would also be collected, and stored together with facial images.

With a billion dollars over the next ten years already allocated by congress for a biometric exit program, Wagner emphasized the need for the solution to be implemented quickly. The system will be tested in other airports this summer, and facial recognition systems for pedestrians will also be deployed at two land border crossings in the U.S. southwest later this year.

“It’s a matter of building out the IT back-end services and infrastructure to support this on a national basis, while simultaneously working with industry stakeholders to incorporate their own automation efforts into the exit infrastructure,” Wagner concluded.

Former FBI executive J. Kevin Reid recently told Biometric Update in an interview that CBP has already begun experimenting with facial and iris recognition.

The Global Business Travelers Association welcomed the biometric system. “CBP’s biometric exit solution, the Traveler Verification System (TVS), has the potential to increase security at the airport and better facilitate travel,” said its Executive Director and COO Michael McCormick in a statement. “TVS can be leveraged by the Transport Security Administration to reduce its workforce, help the airlines achieve the goal of a frictionless travel experience and reduce congestion at the airports.”

Former DHS chief of staff and current vice president and chief of staff at CSRA Inc. Christian Marrone wrote in an editorial for The Washington Times that the program could easily be expanded to include citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries. Those visitors to the U.S. do not require visas and therefore do not have biometric information captured prior to entering the country, but improvements in back-end cloud computing and database technology enable new options for collecting biometric data. Marrone suggested a system in which first-time visitors from the 38 Visa Waiver Program countries would enroll their fingerprints, iris or facial images, and photo identification at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country ahead of time.

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