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TSA test of CBP biometrics expands, startups granted funds as GAO recommends ways to include SMBs


airport facial recognition masks

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration needs to do a better job of partnering with small businesses on aviation security technology to meet its own expectations, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The report comes just as TSA is providing funding to a pair of startups to support its self-service biometric passenger screening processes with non-biometric passenger monitoring.

The TSA is starting a new round of face biometrics testing at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) in partnership with Customs and Border Protection and Delta Air Lines, to streamline passenger journeys from curb to gate with contactless identity verification. A pair of funding awards have been granted to Deep North and Lauretta AI to enable them to contribute video analytics to the federal government’s technology stack.

The GAO report to Congress notes the agency’s mandate to diversify its marketplace of providers for screening passengers and baggage, some of which are biometrics providers.

According to the report, small businesses face significant challenges engaging with TSA contract opportunities, due to difficulty navigating its testing and evaluation process and identifying security requirements. TSA’s innovation and collaboration strategy includes the participation of small businesses, but the agency has not yet established clear and outcome-oriented performance measures for their efforts in that regard.

The GAO recommends that TSA developing outcome-oriented metrics to assess its performance, and gather data on the progress small businesses make (or are unable to make) through the procurement process.

Testing expands at Detroit airport

The face biometrics test at DTW is the next phase in an ongoing project to assess the effectiveness of CBP’s Traveler Verification Service (TVS) for enhanced passenger identity verification at TSA checkpoints.

The test will include some Delta Air Lines SkyMiles members who are also enrolled in a Trusted Traveler service; TSA PreCheck, CBP Global Entry, Nexus or Sentri. Eligible passengers will be notified and can opt into the process during check-in through Delta’s mobile app.

Their live photo will be compared against a gallery of images consenting passengers have previously provided to the federal government for travel purposes, according to the announcement.

“Particularly now, in the midst of this pandemic, self-service technologies that enhance security and reduce physical contact seem worthwhile to test, and we are glad to support this initiative,” Detroit’s TSA Federal Security Director Steve Lorincz states. “This is one of many such pilots at domestic airports, and we continue new test parameters, this time with airline and interagency partners.”

The announcement links to the project’s Privacy Impact Assessment and says the biometric data for the test will be destroyed within 180 days.

Two startups funded for non-biometric screening systems

California start-up Deep North and Massachusetts start-up Lauretta AI, meanwhile, have been granted Phase 1 funding by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) under the Silicon Valley Innovation Program’s (SVIP’s) ‘Emerging Needs: COVID-19 Response & Future Mitigation’ solicitation.

The project for both is to accelerate the exploration of self-screening portals at airport security checkpoints under the TSA’s Innovation Task Force and DHS S&T’s Screening at Speed Program. The two programs are looking for technologies to validate the progress of passengers through the screening process, detect abnormal behaviors and maintain social distancing measures. It will also deter attempts to avoid the screening process, and help officials identify people who may need help with the process.

Deep North will receive $196,880 in funding to apply its pattern and anomaly detection solution for full motion video (FMV) footage to airport screening processes.

Lauretta AI has been granted $199,950 to adapt its video analytic solution, which integrates with off-the-shelf CCTV cameras, for the TSA.

In both cases, the company proposes to associate a unique identifier with passengers that DHS says does not include biometric data like facial recognition. That identifier would then expire after the individual leaves the checkpoint. The project proposal also includes integration with automated baggage and body scanning.

“Airlines, real estate, construction, and retail sectors in both the U.S. and abroad are already successfully adapting this commercially available technology,” comments Melissa Oh, SVIP Managing Director, on the Lauretta AI announcement. “We’re excited to explore this solution that will create a safer environment for the traveling public and TSA’s screening officers.” Oh also notes the commercial success in the travel and telecom industries demonstrated by Deep North.

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