Internal CBP document shows matches in initial biometric pedestrian border checks not satisfactory

Iris and facial biometric technology used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to identify pedestrians for its Biometric Entry/Exit program has failed to provide matching results meeting a “satisfactory” level, according to a document obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

EPIC obtained the “Southwest Border Pedestrian Field Test,” (PDF) an internal document published in December 2016 by the Office of Field Operations Entry/Exit Transformation Office, as the result of a lawsuit against CBP, which it has now settled, with CBP paying EPIC’s $12,000 legal fees. The Field Test was meant to serve as “an initial feasibility study of the chosen technology and biometric modalities,” with the results informing future tests.

The document shows that face recognition “on-the-move” was the most promising technology for processing large traveler volumes, in terms of accuracy and speed, while kiosks showed potential for smaller volumes. The heavily redacted document also suggested that CBP should monitor the evolution of iris recognition technology. In the test, facial biometric capture rates were observed to be significantly higher than iris capture rates.

On-the-move lanes were found to process 4.6 travelers per minute, while “pause-and-look” systems averaged 2.7 travelers, and kiosks 1.9 travelers.

The vendor of the iris recognition system was redacted, along with details about “reasons for process failure,” but CBP says it could not determine the specific cause of failure due to the technology being proprietary. As would be expected, facial recognition kiosks had the best ratio of properly identified to wrongly rejected travelers. Document photos on file with CBP provided better match scores than the gallery of inbound images in the Field Test, and CBP says environmental factors were mitigated better than human ones, even in outdoor settings. More than 10 percent of those processed between 14 and 79 years old did not posses WHTI-compliant documents, and therefore had to be processed manually. This process was faster, however, due to the redistribution of resources enabled by the biometric systems.

A new CBP trial of facial recognition technology for pedestrians at the Southern border was announced last September.

EPIC called on Congress in December to suspend the use of facial recognition until privacy safeguards can be established, and a similar call was made by Senators from each party in March.

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