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What are the different DHS agencies deploying biometrics at U.S. borders?

What are the different DHS agencies deploying biometrics at U.S. borders?

Biometric systems are fast becoming a staple of the travel experience in the U.S. as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) embraces touchless options for border security and beyond. In its recently released Innovation, Research & Development (IRD) Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2024-2030, DHS says it is “investigating enhanced biometrics capabilities grounded in rigorous scientific study and analysis to improve identity validation and verification of individuals arriving or departing points of entry on foot or within a vehicle.”

It can be complicated to figure out what’s what, especially when DHS oversees a number of agencies using biometrics.

CBP: biometric collection at border crossings for national security

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is the largest law enforcement agency under DHS, is focused on immigration and border control. It operates the Biometric Entry/Exit system and the biometric asylum app, CBP One, which collects biometrics from people crossing borders.

The agency provides security and facilitation operations at 328 ports of entry throughout the U.S, including air, sea and land entries. It also oversees Trusted Traveler programs.

CBP currently runs biometric facial comparison technology, known as the Traveler Verification Service (TVS), at 238 airports for entry. For exit (international departure) there are 49 locations, with more planned. TVS “creates a secure biometric template of a passenger’s live facial image taken at the checkpoint and matches it against a gallery of templates of pre-staged photos that the passenger previously provided to the government (e.g., U.S. passport or visa).”

For land borders, 163 use TVS, including three CBP Preclearance locations in British Columbia, Canada.

CBP also covers seaports, where it trends toward biometrics for passenger experience through implementations on cruise ships. It claims to have reduced disembarkation time by 30 percent.

Thirty-six seaports offer biometric facial comparison.

TSA: PreCheck for ease, CAT for security

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) jurisdiction includes commercial and general aviation, mass transit systems, freight and passenger rail, highways and pipelines.

Its PreCheck biometric border control system, one of CBP’s trusted traveler programs, uses facial recognition technology to verify a passenger’s identity against previously enrolled face biometrics. It is an opt-in passenger screening program that makes risk assessments about passengers prior to their arrival at an airport TSA checkpoint.

Biometric enrollment in TSA PreCheck is possible through three digital identity providers – Idemia, Telos and Clear. Idemia hosts the majority of enrollment locations at more than 600. Telos hosts 48 active locations where users can register biometrics, while Clear has 20. Application and renewal costs vary slightly from provider to provider.

More information on how to sign up for PreCheck can be found here.

The TSA also runs standard border security checks. Its credential authentication technology (CAT) terminals are developed by Idemia. The second generation of machines, CAT-2, is going biometric with the implementation of face authentication. The agency plans to install 400 CAT-2 machines with face biometrics in airports across the U.S.

TSA also operates the Secure Flight program, which screens for passengers on the no-fly list.

Other CBP Trusted Traveler programs

CBP’s other trusted traveler programs are the Global Entry system and SENTRI, which allow expedited clearance for pre-screened, designated low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S.; NEXUS, which allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing when entering the U.S. and Canada; and and FAST, which applies to shipping.

Are biometrics in airports here to stay?

The use of biometrics in airports has proven to be politically controversial. A group of U.S. lawmakers has petitioned to have face biometrics banned in U.S. airports.

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