Have TSA Precheck? You May Be Able to Participate in a Biometric Pilot Program

But do you want to?

Miami Int'l Airport To Use Facial Recognition Technology At Passport Control
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Want to help shape the face of the future of travel? If you're a member of TSA Precheck or Global Entry, you might be able to opt-in to a biometric facial comparison "proof of concept" pilot program offered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Traveler Verification Service.

Biometric facial comparison verifies passenger identities by comparing live facial images against a set of pre-staged photos passengers have previously submitted to the government for official identification, such as a passport or digital ID verification—or, say, your TSA Precheck or Global Entry application.

So, how does it work? Eligible passengers will often receive a mobile notification when they check in for their flight on a partnering airline's app. If you opt-in, your mobile boarding pass will feature an indicator to let the TSA agent know you've opted-in, much like what you currently see for TSA Precheck.

You'll be asked to pose for a live picture at the security checkpoint. Using biometric facial comparison technology, this image will be sent to CBP and compared to the previously submitted passenger photos.

Right now, this pilot "proof of concept" is only available for folks flying on Delta out of either Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport or Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. However, TSA plans to expand the program to include more airlines and airports. The goal is for this facial comparison technology to replace digital IDs at security checkpoints, such as those created via Apple Wallet or the American Airlines Mobile ID (currently accepted at a total of 16 airports).

"CBP is excited to expand the use of facial biometrics through public/private partnerships to further secure and enhance travel while protecting the privacy of all travelers and supporting travel recovery," said Diane J. Sabino, deputy executive assistant commissioner, office of field operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on the CBP's biometrics information site.

Speaking of privacy, passengers curious about what kind of data collection this pilot program entails—and shares—should know that TSA says it'll only collect the live photo you've consented to, a passport number, your Known Traveler Number, and transactional metadata, such as a transaction ID number, timestamps, "quality scores" (which is not defined), and the results of the match.

Collected data will then be anonymized, encrypted, and transferred to the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, which assesses how effective the biometric technology performed, and deletes the data within 180 days.

According to CBP, this form of biometric identity verification proved most accurate during trials—better than fingerprint or iris scanning. Biometric facial comparison is currently being used in the entry process for all international airports and the exit process at 32 airports. It was first used for domestic travel in 2021.

While it may make the security process smoother for many travelers, critics have flagged the issues of civil rights violations, privacy leaks, and the implications facial recognition errors may have on travelers.

Article Sources
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  1. Transport Security Administration. "Evaluating Facial Identification Technology - Airport Proofs of Concept." Accessed December 8th, 2022.

  2. CBP. "Biometric Breakthrough." Accessed December 8, 2022.