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TSA plans for airport biometrics, mDLs hinted at in DHS webinar

TSA plans for airport biometrics, mDLs hinted at in DHS webinar

America appears to be moving steadily towards allowing travelers to perform biometric checks with their smartphones with mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), as discussed in a video produced by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Science and Technology (S&T) directorate.

The discussion in DHS’ video on ‘Securing Identity in Modernizing the Future of Air Travel’ refers somewhat vaguely to the programs being developed for airport checkpoints, including Biometric Exit, Simplified Arrival, and mobile credentials in the style of IATA’s One ID.

The discussion was moderated by DHS S&T Chief of Media and Community Relations John Verrico, and featured panelists Jason Lim, manager of TSA’s Identity Management Capability, DHS S&T Biometrics and Identity Technology Center Director Arun Vemury, and Mike McCaskill, director of Identity Management for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).

Verrico says in the introduction that the adoption of innovative technologies can provide new options for how people interact with airport checkpoints, helping to “improve wait times and enhance security.”

Vemury notes converging technology trends towards biometric verification and new models of digital identity credentials, noting the latter can enhance the security and protect user privacy when using the former.

The discussion touched on the need to speed up airport checks with automation, and McCaskill explained how that automation is enabled by the RealID standards for driver’s licenses and the issuance of ISO standards-based mDLs. Lim spoke about the tests of the technical infrastructure needed to accept mobile travel credentials, and the potential of mDLs to reduce the use of fraudulent identity documents.

Vemury stated that a lot of agency work towards the use of mDLs is driven by customer demand, and described the limited disclosure and fast identity verification benefits they can provide.

Lim emphasized the need for the kind of scientific research and testing provided by DHS S&T to “evaluate independently, objectively, the solution performance in our operational environments so we can provide as accurate, as passenger friendly, and as equitable solutions (as possible) for ID verification at checkpoints.”

Vemury lauded the cooperation between stakeholders including technology developers, AAMVA, TSA and NIST on advancing the state of the art for biometric identity verification in the airport environment quickly.

“With some of these new technologies, because they are changing so quickly, we’re running into situations where people’s perceptions of biometric technology are shaped by movies and TV shows, rather than something they actually see on a day-by-day basis,” Vemury explained. He also noted that the feedback is necessary for biometrics developers, who sometimes find their technologies do not work as they expect.

DHS clearly wants to increase the trust Americans have in the biometrics and digital ID systems being deployed for travel checkpoints

TSA’s summer update says the agency’s biometrics pilots have indicated the expected potential gains in security, efficiency, and streamlined passenger experiences. TSA is currently exploring the integration of mDLs with its CAT-2 credential authentication devices, of which 1,053 units have been deployed as of early-July.

The update also notes that traveler volumes have returned to roughly where they were before the pandemic, with more travelers screened by TSA over the Fourth of July weekend than over the equivalent period in 2019.

Apple rumored to plan face biometrics for digital ID validation

Apple, meanwhile, is planning to support mDLs in iOS 15 with biometric authentication through Face ID, 9to5Mac reports.

While Face ID biometrics enrollment captures the user’s face at different angles, code discovered in the beta version of the iPhone operating system indicates users would be prompted to look sideways, close their eyes, and complete other actions until the device prompts them by vibrating. The biometric comparison would be made to the credential on-device, rather than calling back to DMV database.

The company said in June it is in talks with the TSA to implement the feature for airport security checks.

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