Houston is the only U.S. city to equip two airports with facial comparison technology at international arrivals checkpoints.
HOUSTON – Houston reached a technological milestone as the only U.S. city to have two airports equipped with facial comparison technology at international arrivals checkpoints.
“Houston’s Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby Airports are fundamental in maintaining the technology resilience that characterizes our city,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “In reaching this milestone, Houston is sending a message to the nation that we are a center for innovation and technology.”
The facial comparison or “Simplified” program is in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP, and is being used at Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby Airports. The program went online in November at Bush Airport. In February, William P. Hobby airport was the first airport in Texas to use facial comparison technology for all international arrivals and departures. The technology – in addition to providing faster processing of passengers – also reduces touchpoints.
“At Houston Airports, we want to create a touchless environment at every step of the air travel experience,” Houston Airports Director of Aviation Mario Diaz said. “With this technology, we not only drastically reduce wait times at immigration checkpoints for international passengers, but more importantly, we minimize direct contact between passengers and CBP officers, which makes the entry process touchless, safer and faster for everyone.”
Here’s how it works. When international passengers arrive, they pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. CBP’s biometric facial matching service will compare the new photo of the passenger to images that the passenger previously provided to the government, such as passport and visa photos. If a passenger cannot be matched to a photo on record, the CBP officer will process the passenger manually. Passengers who wish to opt-out of the new biometric process may notify an officer as they approach the primary inspection point. Passengers who opt out of the new biometric process will be required to present a valid travel document for manual identity verification by a CBP officer and processed consistent with existing requirements for entry into the United States.
“Simplified Arrival allows international passengers to experience a more touchless, seamless and intuitive process when arriving here,” CBP Director of Houston Field Operations Jud Murdock said. “The speed, accuracy and reliability of facial comparison technology enable CBP officers to confirm a traveler’s identity within seconds while further enhancing the customer experience.”
At Bush Airport, the technology is also being used at multiple international boarding gates at terminals C, D and E. By the end of 2020, 90% of the international boarding gates at Bush Airport will be equipped with facial comparison technology with a goal of reaching 100% by the end of the first quarter for 2021. Once complete, Bush Airport will be considered fully biometric for international boarding and entry.
“Houston is establishing the model for international airports of the future," Houston Airports Chief Technology Officer Tanya Acevedo said. "We could not have accomplished this monumental milestone without the collaboration of all of our federal and our nearly 20 international airline partners. We are especially grateful for the collaboration with United Airlines, which helped us accelerate this valuable touchless technology during this pandemic.”
Strong technical security safeguards are in place and the amount of personally identifiable information used in the facial biometric process is limited. New photos of U.S. citizens will be deleted within 12 hours. Photos of foreign nationals will be stored in a secure DHS system.
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