CBP continues developing, expanding biometric entry-exit system for international flights at US airports

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This week, as part of Customs and Border Protection’s continuing development and expansion of its Traveler Verification Service (TVS), CBP announced the initiation of Phase II of its TVS demonstration conducted in partnership with the TSA.

CBP’s latest biometric technical demonstration will use its TVS cloud-based matching service to compare international travelers’ photos captured by CBP against previously-captured photos as part of its program biometric entry-exit system for international flights at airports throughout the United States, according to the new Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Update for the TVS Phase II rollout.

Since 2017, CBP and TSA have been testing the TVS at TSA security screening checkpoints at certain international terminals at select airports across the United States.

During this second phase technical demonstration, CBP and TSA will use TVS camera technology and matching services to verify travelers’ identities at TSA international departure checkpoint, the new privacy assessment explained.

On September 25, 2017, a CBP-TSA technical demonstration served as a variation of the TVS exit process, leveraging the same technologies to automate what has typically been a manual identity verification process by TSA’s Transportation Security Officers (TSO).

“The demonstration used the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) manifest data to create a gallery of travelers scheduled to board specified outbound international flights during a defined period. The first phase, which commenced in October 2017, explored the feasibility of using CBP’s biometric facial recognition and matching technologies for identity verification at the TSA checkpoint.”

This month, CBP and TSA began Phase II of the technical demonstration, which the Phase II TVS privacy assessment said, “the purpose of the CBP-TSA partner process is consistent with the air exit partner process described earlier in the original TSA PIA Update as well as the Partner Process PIA Update. CBP will continue to collect facial images as well as biographic information from the APIS manifest, which is provided by the airlines, in addition to certain portions of the traveler’s itinerary.”

“Although CBP has previously collected biographic information from partners through the APIS manifest, the collection of travelers’ images at the TSA checkpoint will expedite identity verification and enhance security,” DHS stated.

“In a similar manner to Phase I, based on the APIS manifest, CBP compiles a gallery of previously-acquired facial images – which include photographs captured by CBP during the entry inspection, photographs from previous DHS encounters, and photographs from the Department of State, such as US passports and US visas — of travelers who are scheduled to depart the United States on specified international flights [and] the Automated Targeting System (ATS) Unified Passenger Module (UPAX) creates biometric templates of those photos and transmits them to the TVS matching service.”

In Phase II, the TSO, who serves as the TSA Travel Document Checker, directs all travelers with a boarding pass for international outbound flights-only to a CBP-owned camera which is placed near the podium at the TSA checkpoint for a photo capture. Once the photo is captured and transmitted to TVS, it is converted into a template and matched against the gallery of preassembled templates of historical images from the existing database of images, and CBP “deletes all photos, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, from the TVS cloud matching service within 12 hours of the match,” the agency said.

The TSO receives the result of this matching process “on a TSA-owned tablet at the screening podium via a mobile-friendly dashboard application developed by CBP for the TSOs. If the TVS confirms the traveler’s identity, the CBP dashboard application will display the newly-captured image, along with biographic data (full name and date of birth) of that passenger, for review by the TSO, who will direct the traveler to the appropriate screening lane based on TSA’s standard security screening procedures.”

Now, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “If the TVS cannot capture an acceptable image of the passenger, or there is no match for the traveler’s photo, the TSA tablet will display only the captured photo but no biographic information, and the TSO will follow TSA’s standard procedures for verifying the traveler’s identity, and the traveler will proceed to the appropriate screening lane.”

Acceptable identification includes:

• Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent);
• US passport;
• US passport card;
• DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST);
• Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents;
• Permanent resident card;
• Border crossing card;
• DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license;
• Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID;
• HSPD-12 PIV card;
• Foreign government-issued passport;
• Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card;
• Transportation worker identification credential;
• US Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766); and
• US Merchant Mariner Credential

For passengers who do not want to be photographed, they will are allowed to continue to the TSO for standard inspection procedures.

“After the traveler completes TSA’s physical screening process, CBP Officers (CBPOs) receive an alert on his or her Biometric Exit Mobile Application (BE-Mobile) device – which is used in the Biometric Exit Mobile Program — indicating that for a particular traveler, there was not a match or that there was an inability to capture an acceptable image,” DHS’s privacy assessment said. “In this case, the CBPO may use the BE-Mobile device to verify authenticity, identity, and citizenship via biographic data and an examination of travel documents,” or, “can also use the device to determine the appropriate course of action(s) for biometric capture or exemption, i.e., through new fingerprints, photo captures, and/or the collection of additional biometric information from the traveler. During this process, if the CBPO identifies actionable derogatory information on a particular traveler, (e.g., the individual is found on the IDENT biometric watch list), the CBPO may escort the traveler to the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) area to conduct further questioning or appropriate actions under CBP’s law enforcement authorities.”

DHS-branded signage is placed “in plain view near the TSA checkpoint, along with tear sheets as requested [which] will communicate CBP’s request that outbound international travelers voluntarily permit themselves to be photographed, along with instructions, alternative procedures, and Frequently Asked Questions. Individuals who choose not to participate may request processing under standard procedures by a TSO,” DHS assured.

Continuing, the required privacy assessment of the TVS Phase II initiative stated, “CBP and TSA will continue to operate under similar principles of transparency as those implemented for the entire TVS process,” which was addressed in an earlier privacy assessment.

CBP is also “working closely with TSA to post signs and provide tear sheets notifying travelers of the purpose of this initiative, as well as where to find more information. Additionally, signs posted near the inspection area provide notice to individuals regarding their ability to opt out of the technical demonstration; however they will still be subject to regular TSA and CBP screening. Travelers who have questions related to TVS will be directed to the CBP Info Center.”

Additional information on this and other CBP biometric exit projects is available on the official CBP public website.

Concerns about an “over collection risk” in which CBP “may collect photos from individuals” at TSA checkpoints who are not departing on an international flight are, DHS said, “mitigated” by the fact CBP and TSA are only deploying the Phase II TVS technical demonstration “at a checkpoint dedicated to international flights,” and that, “All travelers screened at this checkpoint are boarding international flights for which CBP and TSA have collected APIS manifests.”

Also responding to the risk that CBP, or TSA, could use the photos captured under the TVS program “for a purpose other than those specified for the original collection,” DHS assured this risk is mitigated because “TSA will only use these photos for identity verification at the checkpoint, and cannot access the photos after the inspection is completed,” and that, “CBP will only use the photos for identity verification and will only temporarily retain the photos” under the TVS Phase II program demonstration.

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