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One-to-One Facial Image Comparison Project at JFK Airport

Last spring, travelers passing through customs at Dulles International Airport noticed new equipment being tested there. That equipment was the one-to-one facial image comparisons assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in identifying possible fraudulent usage of valid passports. After a successful testing period at Dulles, DHS has installed the new technology in three terminals at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

The system was developed by Unisys as part of its Land Border Integration contract with CBP. The facial-comparison technology relies on the personal image on a passport’s biometric page (which is electronically stored on the small chip in the ePassport and compares it to a live facial image taken at the CBP booth. The system then generates a match confidence score indicating the likelihood of a match between the two photographs. If there is a successful match, the live facial image is not retained.

Facial image comparisons will be used for returning U.S. citizens with ePassports and first-time Visa Waiver Program travelers. The latter have been included because Homeland Security has identified an appreciable risk of passport and identity fraud among this population of travelers, exacerbated by recent terrorist attacks. Since travel on the Visa Waiver Program accounts for about two-thirds of all business and leisure travel to the U.S., the new technology will be heavily used.

Given its success as a test program, Dulles Airport is expected to adopt the new facial-comparison program in February 2016. CBP has not stated whether additional airports will use the one-to-one program, but the agency will be conducting additional tests to evaluate new biometric technologies in different environments in 2016.