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Transportation Security Administration

Biometrics Technology

With improvements in biometrics technology for identity verification, TSA is evaluating the operational and security impacts of using passengers’ biometrics to verify their identities instead of manual ID checks. Using biometrics will improve aviation security by modernizing aviation passenger identity verification over the coming years.

TSA began testing biometrics solutions for identity verification purposes in 2015, and we continue to test biometrics solutions to increase security effectiveness while also improving efficiency and passenger experience.

Passenger participation in TSA’s biometrics technology tests is voluntary, and passengers may notify a TSA officer if they prefer to proceed with the manual ID check.

We encourage you to read the TSA Biometrics Roadmap, the TSA Myth Busters and TSA and CBP’s report to Congress on biometrics deployment to learn more about our biometrics efforts.

Facial Recognition Technology

TSA is evaluating facial recognition technology to automate the identity and boarding pass verification process at the checkpoint. Today, TSOs and airline employees manually compare the passenger in front of them to their photo ID. Automating current identity verification capabilities can improve the performance and security of TSA operations by increasing assurance of traveler identity beyond what current manual processes alone can provide.

TSA, in collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, conducted a test at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in October 2017 using CBP’s facial recognition technology. A second test of facial recognition technology with CBP was conducted at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in early 2018, and continues at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

In late August 2019, TSA will conduct a new facial verification test at the McCarran International Airport (LAS).

Facial Recognition Test at McCarran International Airport (LAS)

Beginning in late August 2019, TSA will conduct a short-term test at McCarran International Airport (LAS) to test the automation of the identity verification portion of the Travel Document Checker (TDC). The test will use facial recognition technology added to TSA’s Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines. TSA will assess its ability to compare the passenger’s photo taken at the checkpoint against an image taken from the passenger’s identity document. TSA will collect the passenger’s photo, along with certain biographic information from their identity document, and temporarily retain it for subsequent technical analysis by S&T for this test.

What passengers can expect

A Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) device will be equipped with a camera at the checkpoint. The CAT with Camera (CAT-C) will validate that the identity document presented by the passenger is authentic; collect the photo image and limited information from the document; and capture the passenger’s live facial image for identity verification. The CAT-C device will verify that the document belongs to the person presenting it. Because this is just a test of the technology, once the facial matching result is recorded, TSA personnel staffing the CAT-C will direct the passenger to the standard TDC process for manual identity and travel document verification, regardless of the biometric matching results.

Participation is voluntary. Only travelers in the TSA Pre✓® lane who volunteer to participate in the test will be processed with the CAT-C device. TSA will provide notice to travelers via signage, and TSA personnel will have hand-outs available to provide additional information about TSA’s biometric screening technology and data protection procedures.

For more information about regarding privacy, please review the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for the LAS test.

Facial Recognition Test with CBP

In November 2018, TSA began testing facial recognition technology at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Terminal F as an alternative means to verify a passenger’s identity when they begin screening at a TSA security checkpoint. This ongoing pilot is in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and tests biometric technology for identity verification. The technology used is the Traveler Verification System maintained by CBP. We also tested this system in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport from August to October 2018.

Participation in the facial recognition test is voluntary. Passengers who choose not to have their picture taken should notify a TSA officer.

What passengers can expect

Facial Recognition Technology at Los Angeles International AirportWhen passengers present their boarding passes, a TSA officer will ask if they would like to have their picture taken instead of providing physical identification documents. CBP’s system will attempt to compare that picture to photos in government databases, such as photos obtained from passports or visa applications, to verify the passenger’s identity. TSA does not store the photograph.

If CBP’s system confirms a match to a photograph in a government database, the passenger’s name and date of birth will be sent from the database to a tablet used by the TSA officer. The TSA officer will then use the information displayed on the tablet to verify the identity of the passenger and direct the passenger to proceed with physical screening.

If CBP’s system cannot match the passenger’s picture, the database will indicate that no picture match could be made. Where the system does not produce a match, the TSA officer will use standard document checking procedures.

After the passenger completes screening, a CBP officer may approach and ask to speak with the passenger. The CBP officer will run further checks, which may include a review of immigration and law enforcement databases available to CBP. These databases may reveal whether the passenger is subject of a warrant or other immigration or law enforcement action.

For more information about CBP’s exit program, please visit their biometric air exit website. For more information regarding privacy, please visit the DHS Traveler Verification Service website.

Fingerprint Technology

Biometric Authentication TechnologyFingerprint technology can be used to verify identity, allowing a traveler’s fingerprints to serve as both a boarding pass and identity document. The technology matches passenger fingerprints provided at the checkpoint to those that were provided to TSA by travelers when they enrolled in the TSA Pre✓® application program.

In June 2017, TSA tested fingerprint technology at a TSA Pre✓® lane at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and at Denver International Airport.

Frequently Asked Questions

Am I required to be processed by the biometrics technology tested at an airport checkpoint?

No. Participation in the testing of biometrics technology is voluntary. Passengers may notify a TSA officer if they do not wish to participate and they will go through the standard manual ID verification process.

How is TSA addressing the matching error rate issues with facial recognition algorithms?

TSA is grounding its exploration of biometric solutions in rigorous scientific study and analysis. We are aware of a variety of public concerns related to error rates and take this issue seriously. Along with its federal partners, TSA is carefully studying matching performance differences across biometric systems and operational environments to identify the existence of disparities on these and other grounds. Accuracy in biometric solutions is a key issue for TSA, and one that we are carefully studying to ensure that we are realizing the full benefits of this technology and making informed decisions to mitigate risks.

How will this improve passenger experience?

The LAS test is consistent with one of the goals identified in TSA’s Biometrics Roadmap to operationalize biometrics for TSA Pre✓® travelers. The test will help TSA assess how to further secure, facilitate and enhance passenger experience.

How will this make U.S. flights more secure?

Facial recognition capabilities will improve the performance and security of TSA operations by increasing assurance of traveler identity beyond what current manual processes alone can provide. Biometrics can enable TSA to automate part of the current manual procedures and reinvest screening personnel time saved into performing other critical security tasks and biometric error resolution. In the future, improved screening processes may enable TSA to use biometrics to retrieve pre-screening information to support TSA decisions on the level of screening that passengers and their baggage will receive.

How will passengers know that they are not required to participate?

TSA will provide English and Spanish signage at the airport in close proximity to the dedicated test lanes to provide immediate notice to passengers. TSA personnel monitoring the CAT-C testing will have English and Spanish hand-outs available that provide additional information about TSA’s screening technology and data protection procedures. These signs and hand-outs will also notify the public that participation is completely voluntary.

Is TSA planning to test this technology in other airports? If so, which airports and when?

Currently, TSA is testing curb-to-gate biometrics for identity verification with CBP and Delta Air Lines at Terminal F at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Testing began in October 2018 and TSA is continuing to evaluate the use case of leveraging biometrics for a seamless identity verification process across multiple airport touchpoints, including check-in, bag drop, checkpoint and boarding. Future tests at additional airports have not been determined at this time.

Is TSA using facial recognition technology to profile and deport travelers?

No. TSA is testing biometrics technology at the airport to automate the identify verification portion of the TDC process for all passengers, not for law enforcement or immigration enforcement purposes. Additionally, TSA does not tolerate racial profiling. Profiling is not an effective way to perform security screening, and TSA personnel are trained to treat every passenger with dignity and respect.

What authority does TSA have with respect to the use of biometric technology, specifically facial recognition?

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), Pub. L. 107-71, gives TSA broad authority to conduct screening of persons and property, and specifically authorizes TSA to use biometric and other technologies. ATSA also authorizes TSA to test new technology and equipment. TSA has authority to establish pilot programs to test new technology to ensure safety and security for the airport, including biometric technology that ensures only authorized access to secure areas. Additionally, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, P.L. 115-254, which incorporated the TSA Modernization Act, directs TSA, in coordination with CBP, to submit a report to appropriate committees of Congress that includes assessments of: the operational and security impact of using biometric technology to identify travelers; the potential effects on privacy of the expansion of biometric technologies, including methods proposed or implemented to mitigate privacy risks; and methods to analyze and address matching errors related to race, gender, or age.

What data protection measures does TSA have in place to protect PII?

TSA will collect the passenger’s photo, along with certain biographic information from the passenger’s identity document, which will be converted into a format that de-identifies the individual. TSA will store this data on a removable TSA-owned encrypted hard drive attached to the CAT-C. S&T will delete the data no later than 180 days following receipt. Additional information regarding data protection procedures for the test is available in TSA’s Privacy Impact Assessment.

What happens if TSA is not able to match my biometrics to my travel documents?

During this technology test, all passengers must complete the standard TDC process for manual identity and travel document verification. If TSA is unable to obtain a match through the biometrics technology, the TSA officer will use standard manual traveler identity verification procedures.

What personally identifiable information (PII) will TSA collect and retain as part of the LAS test?

TSA will collect only a real-time image of the passenger’s face, the photograph from the passenger’s identity document, and limited information from the identity document. Data collected during the test will be converted into a non-identifying format and transferred to S&T for analysis. TSA will not separately retain the biometric or biographic data, except for storing it for transfer to S&T.