Some themes of the conference included:
Challenges of interagency and international data-sharing. As can pose a challenge in the U.S., other countries also have multiple agencies- e.g. border control, intelligence, immigration, interior federal law enforcement- with somewhat overlapping duties when it comes to vetting incoming tourists, refugees, and immigrants seeking employment or other visas. The varying levels of authority among these agencies to collect, share, and store different data elements for different purposes can get complicated and may raise conflicting privacy and security concerns. Now, as biometric data, such as facial images or fingerprints, are becoming more commonly captured by different countries at their borders, the question of which agencies are entitled to them and for what purpose, raises difficult policy and governance questions.
Building Public Trust: A number of speakers commented that a critical element of rolling out a biometric capture program at their country’s border would require confidence from the public that data would be used and stored responsibly, and that the security and travel facilitation benefits would outweigh any additional intrusion on privacy. Whether or not home-country citizens’ data would be captured along with all foreign visitors was another variable. The EU Representative, Ciaran Carolan, stated that when their “EU-LISA Smart Borders” program goes live over the next few years, biometric capture at the border would only be done on non-EU citizens. The U.S. on the other hand, plans to collect U.S. citizens’ facial images, but only store them for a very limited about of time.
Technology: Capture technology, whether facial or fingerprint, continues to improve, but in environments where border crossers must be processed in seconds, both the capture and matching element must function almost instantaneously. From the perspective of Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, John Wagner, the camera to be used for CBP’s facial recognition operation for outbound international flights will not need to be very expensive. Adding that even a personal phone camera image might be sufficient. However, the technology used on the back end to analyze the image and match it to an image that exists in CBP’s dataset of individuals scheduled to depart on that flight, would have to be sophisticated enough to function quickly and accurately.
Wagner added that for the U.S., the land border, personally operated vehicle (POV) environment poses a significant challenge in biometric capture. In the air environment, a known group of individuals’ who are scheduled to board a given flight can have their facial images segmented in a smaller data set, so that a match of their facial image taken at the jetway must only be made among those ~150-200 images of expected travelers and can happen quickly. However, given the larger universe of potential border crossers at any given time, the same cannot be done as easily in the land environment. CBP will proceed with testing in the air environment for the near future and seek to rollout a nationwide air-exit operation in 2018. A land environment solution will have to wait. However, an EU representative stated that for their purposes, all modes of travel must be covered if the goal of the operation was 100% entry/exit matching.
Government vs. Industry Roles and Responsibilities: As momentum for a biometric air-exit solution grows in the U.S., some policy and process questions remain regarding the respective roles of the government and private sector. Certain airlines have publicly demonstrated a willingness to participate in the U.S. pilot programs, such as Jet Blue and Delta. CBP believes that as the program grows, more airlines and passengers will view biometric capture positively from a business process standpoint. Facial recognition will gain popularity because it can be used to add speed and security in multiple facets of the flying experience from bag check to security lines to departure.
However, Airlines for America, Managing Director for Passenger Facilitation, Barbara Kostuk, questioned the feasibility of making airline employees responsible for staffing the cameras at the jetway in a scenario where a CBP Officer would only arrive at the gate to address a mismatch or other issue. Any scenario where an airline or airport employee is responsible for passengers’ facial images, even for a brief time, also creates privacy questions. Kostuk also questioned the purpose of only collecting biometrics in the air environment as an originally stated goal of Congress was 100% entry/exit matching of all travelers in all modes. She noted that confidence rates for entry/exit matching in air are already very high just using biographic information. Exact protocols will have to be worked out as the program grows in scope.