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Facial recognition debuts at Charlotte’s airport for use on foreign arriving passengers

May 15, 2021 Updated Sat., May 15, 2021 at 9:31 p.m.

By Joe Marusak The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Federal agents at Charlotte’s airport have begun using facial recognition software on passengers arriving from foreign countries, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Friday.

Facial biometrics is “safe and touchless” for passengers and has stopped more than 650 “imposters” from entering the U.S. since September 2018, according to an agency news release.

By law, arriving passengers already must verify who they are by presenting a travel document. With facial biometrics, passengers now pause for a quick photo that’s compared with the photo originally submitted to the government to obtain the travel document, officials said.

Imposters use real travel documents issued to other people to try to enter the U.S.

Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Dallas-Fort Worth , Houston and other major airports already use facial biometrics, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Rob Brisley told The Charlotte Observer on Saturday.

More than 72 million travelers have participated in facial comparison at border control checkpoints, according to Brisley.

Charlotte is the only port of entry in North Carolina where the software has been deployed.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection “looks forward to” partnering with other port of entry locations in the state to introduce facial biometrics, Barry Chastain said in Friday’s news release. He is Charlotte area port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Haley Gentry. acting aviation director at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, said the technology is great for passengers.

“As one of the busiest airports in the world, this innovative technology will provide our millions of passengers each year an enhanced customer experience upon their return to the U.S,” Gentry said.

Facial biometrics takes only seconds “and is more than 98% accurate,” according to the federal agency.

And foreign travelers who’ve been to the United States before might no longer need to provide fingerprints, officials said. That’s because facial recognition will confirm their identity, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Regarding privacy concerns over the technology, the federal agency said it “is committed to its privacy obligations and has taken steps to safeguard the privacy of all travelers.”

Measures include “strong technical security safeguards” and limiting “the amount of personally identifiable information used,” according to the release.

Also, new photos of U.S. citizens are deleted in 12 hours, while “photos of most foreign nationals will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system,” according to the news release.

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