Simplified Arrival: Airport Facial Recognition, Part I/II

Simplified Arrival; Dulles

As early as 2015, we became aware that the U.S. government was investing heavily into facial recognition as an alternative to paper or digital identification documents. Facial recognition is currently used in select US airports as part of a program called Simplified Arrival, under the jurisdiction of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); newly added airports applying this technology are in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.  Rogers Municipal Carter Field Airport, Lakefront Airport, Alexandria (Louisiana) International Airport, Gulfport Biloxi International Airport, Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, and Memphis International Airport. Under Simplified Arrival, the identity of international travelers who enter and exit the country can be verified at inspection points in the airport by the snap of a picture, rather than having to present a travel document.  

A facial recognition algorithm compares the picture against a gallery of images that the traveler has previously provided the government with, such as passport and visa photos, to confirm the individual’s identity. Passengers are allowed to opt-out of the process, if they wish, by alerting a CBP officer during the identification process at the terminal, in which case a more traditional document inspection is carried out by CBP officials. 

According to the CBP, as of January 24, 2022, more than 130 million travelers have participated in the biometric facial comparison process at air, land and seaports of entry. Since September 2018, CBP has leveraged facial biometrics to prevent nearly 2,000 imposters from illegally entering the United States by using genuine travel documents that were issued to other people.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

It remains that the technology behind Simplified Arrival has been a topic of heated debate ever since it was first implemented. Much of the debate involves the accuracy of the system’s algorithms.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the recognition accuracy of the system allowed for 0.0092% of travelers at risk of being mismatched to a photo of another person. Seems like a small percentage of the traveling population until you realize it could translate to tens of thousands of incorrect identifications on a country-wide scale.  

My next article on this subject will be on the technology behind the soft mask facial recognition systems currently being tested domestically and internationally, augmenting Simplified Arrival. There are also modified masks now that can block facial recognition but I suspect they will be banned for usage at ports of entry in the country.

BNI operatives: situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.