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DHS, TSA testing touch-free fingerprint scanners


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has partnered with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to evaluate new identity verification technology that can speed up the processing time for travelers to pass through security.

In June, TSA began performing a series of proof-of-concept tests for new fingerprint technology with the help of S&T’s Biometrics Technology Engine and Apex Screening at Speed program.

The touch-free scanners, developed by Advanced Optical Systems, Inc., allows travelers to use their fingerprints as their boarding pass and identity document.

The technology can only currently be used by TSA Precheck members, who provide their fingerprints upon enrolling in the program. Once the scanner matches fingerprints to those stored on the TSA Precheck system, it obtains the traveler’s boarding pass information and grants them access to their gate.

“A biometric process can actually be faster than scanning tickets and can identify travelers automatically with few errors,” Arun Vemury, S&T Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency Program Manager, said. “However, performance depends dramatically on the choice of technology and process.”

Tests are currently being conducted in select TSA Precheck lanes at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and Denver International Airport, which were selected based on the expertise of local TSA teams, diverse passenger demographics, and the ability to integrate the technology without negatively affecting airport operations.

S&T hopes the proof-of-concept tests will help TSA learn as much as possible so they can continue improving the security screening process.

The agency is quantifying how many tries travelers take to submit fingerprints, the kind of use errors made, and assessing travelers’ satisfaction with the transaction.

The evaluation team then compares the data with observations of traditional contact sensors and records any differences.

“Failure to acquire biometrics can be a major source of error for biometric systems, especially those serving hurried travelers who may not understand how to present their biometrics properly,” Vemury said.

The Screening at Speed program often creates tests in controlled environments like S&T’s Maryland Test Facility (MdTF), however, this latest effort observes the biometric fingerprint technology in real airports.

“Based on prior data collected at MdTF, we developed specific classes of use errors associated with fingerprint biometrics,” one of the evaluators said. “Two major classes are incorrect hand positioning and improper hand movement and speed. Our field observations with actual travelers were very similar to our simulated scenario tests in the lab.”

The proof of concept testing is part of an ongoing effort to see whether biometrics can eventually replace boarding passes to yield faster, more secure passenger screening.

As part of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), the Screening at Speed program focuses on developing technologies and framework for future aviation checkpoints where the screening process is more automated, reduces the processing time for passengers and TSA officers and increases the ability to detect potential threats.

In July, privacy rights organization Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) urged the Transportation Security Administration to consider other options for expanding the collection of biometric identifiers for the TSA Pre-Check application.

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