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Detroit Metropolitan Airport Latest to Receive Facial Recognition Technology

By Kelly Hoggan

The Customs station at Detroit's international airport has begun using facial recognition technology for arriving passengers.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s facial recognition technology program has now arrived at Detroit’s international airport. Known as ‘Simplified Arrival,’ CBP’s biometric-based system matches the faces of arriving international travelers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport against the images contained in their travel documents, enabling the agency to quickly verify their identities. Detroit also joins a growing list of top US airports using the Simplified Arrivals system, where at least 20 of them will offer the facial recognition technology to speed through the Customs process by the end of 2020.

Facial Recognition Programs

Systems like Simplified Arrivals and its brother facial recognition program, Biometric Exit – which photographs departing international travelers at their departure gates – are currently voluntary for US citizens. CBP says that, at present, Americans who don’t wish to be photographed when arriving into or departing from the country can request alternative means of processing. Facial recognition technology can reduce the time needed to verify an international traveler’s identity to just two seconds or less.

How Facial Recognition Works

By using vast amounts of data and the ability of artificial intelligence, or AI, to sift through it all, faces can be rapidly matched to true identities. Arriving or departing flyers simply step up to a camera, which takes their photograph. Once the image is captured, it’s compared to passport photos, visas, other travel documentation and any previous encounters with Customs to find a match. Depending on whether a flyer is arriving or departing, once their identity is verified, they can either continue through the Customs process or board their departing international flight

Improving National Security

Department of Homeland Security officials as well as CBP and Transportation Security Administration leaders are enthused about the ability of Simplified Arrivals and similar recognition programs. Officials believe their use will improve the flow of legitimate travel by international travelers, for one, while also strengthening national security by preventing imposters from using stolen or forged documents. Customs officials will be able to concentrate on interviewing arriving passengers rather than splitting their attention on administrative tasks such as scrutinizing images on passports.

Image Storage and Civil Liberties

The security agency notes that all photographs taken of arriving travelers are stored in a secure cloud-based environment and are deleted within 12 hours. Long-term storage of such images on government-controlled servers had been of concern to civil liberties advocates, and the speedy deletion of them plays a big role in ensuring travelers’ privacy.

Growing Usage

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s “Fiscal Year 2018 Entry/Exit Overstay Report,” DHS expects to use facial recognition programs on 97 percent of departing international passengers by mid-2023. Barring any major issues, arriving passengers can expect to see Simplified Arrivals or similar technology at all US international airport Customs stations within the next few years as well.

Saving Time, Reducing Stress

Arriving into the US from a foreign country can sometimes be a lengthy and stressful process for some flyers. Customs officials say Simplified Arrivals will cut down on the amount of time needed for international travelers to “clear Customs” and enter the United States. There’s little doubt that any reduction in time spent in a Customs line should come as a great relief to travelers.

Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.

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