April 14, 2021
US border protection used facial recognition on 23 million travelers in 2020

US border protection used facial recognition on 23 million travelers in 2020


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Facial recognition tech is scanning more faces at borders and airports. 


Angela Lang/CNET

US Customs and Border Protection used facial recognition technology on more than 23 million travelers in 2020, according to a report published by the agency. That’s up from the 19 million travelers CBP scanned with the tech in 2019.

The biometric facial scans had a match rate of more than 97% last year, CBP said. The agency also noted that since 2018, officers have identified seven imposters at US airports and 285 imposters in land pedestrian settings. 

Critics of facial recognition technology have expressed several concerns with using it at airports. This includes the tradeoff between giving up your identity and privacy to zip through security, and the fact that research has shown facial recognition algorithms have error rates that vary depending on a person’s race or gender, meaning some groups could face extra screening more often than others. 

In 2019, CBP dropped plans to require that US citizens go through a biometric face scan when entering or leaving the country, maintaining the right for people to opt out. The agency was also scrutinized for setting up facial recognition systems without proper vetting or regulatory safeguards, according to reports. 

CBP identified its first imposter using facial recognition tech in 2018: a man who tried to pose as a French citizen at Washington Dulles International Airport.

CBP asserts that facial recognition “can have a direct, positive impact on the travel industry’s ability to resume operations following the pandemic,” noting that, “using biometric technology, air and sea partners can replace current check in, security, and boarding processes that involve long lines, heavy personal interaction, and the handling of travel documents. Facial biometric technology encourages contactless travel that involves minimal physical contact and promotes social distancing.” 



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