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What you need to know about facial recognition at airports

“We’ve automated a manual process,” said Diane Sabatino, deputy executive assistant commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), who is overseeing the biometric program.

February 27, 2022 / 11:07 PM IST
Representative Image

Representative Image

As Americans get more comfortable traveling during the pandemic, international travelers may find a new identification system used by the  on their return home in the form of biometric facial recognition. Following a directive by Congress’ 9/11 Commission to increase border security by using biometrics, CBP began ramping up the technology in 2018 in a program called Simplified Arrival. Among other biometric measurements available, including iris scans and fingerprints, the agency selected facial recognition, which uses a computer algorithm to compare a picture taken in person at airport immigration or another border checkpoint to the traveler’s passport picture or visa.

“We’ve automated a manual process,” said Diane Sabatino, deputy executive assistant commissioner for CBP, who is overseeing the biometric program.

Some privacy advocates have questioned the use of the technology. Addressing equity, Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter to the agency in January requesting more information “to ensure that flagged individuals are treated in a safe, fair and noninvasive manner given the imperfection of facial recognition software.”

The following are excerpts from an interview on the issues with Sabatino, edited for length and clarity.