The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing an updated ID scanner equipped with a biometric camera that uses facial recognition technology to confirm passengers’ identities. The new machines compare the facial scans of travelers to the photos on their driver’s license or passport and verify that they are a ticketed airline passenger. The machines are self-service, and travellers simply insert their ID into the machine and look at the camera. After their identity is validated, they are allowed to proceed to the security checkpoint. While the final approval is still with the security officer, this new technology is expected to make airport security checkpoints more seamless and quicker.
The new technology is already rolling out to airports, with a pilot version being trialed last fall at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. During the trial, which was open to TSA PreCheck travelers, the facial recognition scanners were tested as a potential solution to reduce touchpoints during the pandemic. However, the new scanners are now voluntary but accessible to everyone. Travelers are allowed to opt-out and request manual identity verification from the officer at the podium.
The TSA has invested $128 million in an initial batch of 1,500 of the new facial recognition scanners at 16 airports around the country. The TSA predicts that the number of travellers this summer season will be “comfortably above” pre-pandemic figures, making the technology’s implementation vital. The new facial recognition scanners are called credential authentication technology (CAT) machines. “This technology is valuable because it enhances detection capabilities for identifying fraudulent IDs such as driver’s licenses and passports at a checkpoint and it increases efficiency by automatically verifying a passenger’s identification,” Christopher Murgia, TSA’s federal security director for Maryland, said in a release.
The photos from the facial scans are only used to compare travelers’ picture IDs and are not saved or used for any other purposes, according to the TSA. In addition to driver’s licenses and passports, the machines can read thousands of different types of IDs, including permanent resident cards, U.S. visas, military common access cards, and Global Entry cards.
Travelers should still carry their boarding passes to the airport to show airline representatives at their departure gate to board the plane, even though the first-generation CAT machines eliminated the need for passengers to scan boarding passes at the podium pre-security.
Earlier this week, Baltimore-Washington International Airport was among the first facilities in the country to install the new scanners. However, the number of facilities with the new machines is likely to expand rapidly. Travelers are allowed to opt-out of using the new facial recognition scanners and request manual identity verification, making the process less intrusive. As the TSA implements more of the new CAT machines across the country, they are expected to make airport security checkpoints more efficient and less time-consuming for passengers.