Biometrics Technology

TSA seeks to leverage biometric technology to automate the identity verification process to enhance security effectiveness, improve operational efficiency, and streamline the passenger experience, while protecting privacy. TSA’s exploration of biometric technology comes at an ideal time to capitalize on technological advancements in biometric system accuracy, speed, and ability to automate high-throughput operations.

With improvements in biometric technology for identity verification, TSA is evaluating the operational, security, and privacy impacts of using biometrics to verify identity instead of manual identity document (ID) checks. Using biometrics promises to improve aviation security by modernizing aviation passenger identity verification over the coming years.

TSA began testing biometric solutions for identity verification purposes in 2015 and continues to test biometric solutions to increase security effectiveness while also improving operational efficiency and the passenger experience.

Passenger participation in TSA’s biometric technology tests is voluntary. You may notify a TSA officer if you prefer a manual ID check.

Please visit the links below for additional information on TSA’s biometric technology.

TSA’s Use of Biometric Technology

TSA continues to explore the use of biometric technology to enhance security effectiveness, improve operational efficiency and yield a more streamlined passenger experience. TSA is grounding its exploration of biometric solutions in rigorous scientific study and analysis by testing these solutions in TSA’s operational environments. By collaborating with Department of Homeland Security components, airlines, airports and industry partners, TSA is enhancing security effectiveness and operational efficiency while providing the public with a streamlined experience.

Facial matching and facial identification technologies can play an important role in increasing the security effectiveness of the travel document checker position at the checkpoint by enhancing current manual ID verification procedures. These technologies have the potential to enhance security effectiveness, improve operational efficiency, and yield a more streamlined passenger experience.

1:1 Facial Matching

TSA is testing 1:1 (one to one) facial matching capabilities by integrating biometric capture with Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines to verify a live image capture against the image on a credential (e.g., passport or ID photo). TSA is exploring this as a solution for the general traveler population. 1:1 facial matching does not require a database of pre-staged images, since the passenger’s ID contains the reference photo to which their live face will be matched.

Digital Identity

In recognition of the increased use of digital credentials, and as part of our approach to identity management, TSA is exploring ways to accept digital identity documents, such as mobile driver’s licenses, in the airport environment. Specifically, TSA is exploring the integration of a digital ID authentication capability with CAT machines to accept digital ID information at the airport checkpoint and verify a person’s identity.

1:n Facial Identification

TSA is also testing 1:n (one to many) facial identification capabilities by utilizing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Traveler Verification Service to compare a passenger’s live image to gallery of pre-staged enrolled reference photos. This solution is currently being developed for the TSA PreCheck® Application Program and CBP Global Entry Program trusted traveler populations. More information on CBP’s Traveler Verification Service can be found on CBP’s biometrics webpage.

Current Tests: Building on What TSA Has Learned

In light of COVID-19, advanced health and safety precautions have become a top priority and part of the new normal for TSA and the travel industry. As a result, as part of our efforts to integrate facial matching technology with CAT, TSA is exploring testing and deployment of self-service technologies at airport checkpoints, particularly at the travel document checker position.

In late August 2020, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), TSA demonstrated a self-service version of CAT with a camera. CAT-2 enables passengers to scan their own identity documentation for authentication and biometric identity matching, vastly reducing unnecessary contact between TSA officers and passengers. CAT-2 also includes a Plexiglass shield to further minimize contact between officers and passengers. Based on further analysis of the DCA pilot, TSA conducted formal field tests with volunteer passengers at DCA, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Indianapolis International Airport (IND), and Miami International Airport (MIA) to identify, evaluate, and mitigate system performance issues across diverse operational environments and passenger demographics.

TSA plans to conduct additional CAT-2 pilots in late 2021. During the tests, TSA will verify a live image capture against the image on a credential (e.g., passport or ID photo). The device enables passengers to scan their own identity documentation for authentication and biometric identity matching, thereby reducing unnecessary contact between TSA officers and passengers. It also includes a Plexiglass shield to further minimize contact between TSA officers and passengers.

Passengers may choose not to have a photo taken by the camera at the checkpoint but will still need to place their identity document in the CAT device for authentication.

In March 2021 at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in cooperation with Delta Air Lines, began a pilot for Trusted Travelers (e.g., TSA PreCheck® and CBP Global Entry members). This pilot uses TSA’s Secure Flight and CBP’s Traveler Verification Service systems to verify a passenger’s identity at the TSA checkpoint. The technology compares the passenger’s live photo to a pre-staged gallery of photos previously provided to the government for travel purposes (i.e., passport). TSA will also pilot this technology at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in late 2021.

During the Delta Air Lines mobile app check-in process, eligible passengers will be notified of their ability to participate in the pilot and can opt in (consent) to participate. Passengers who choose to participate will have a consent indicator on their mobile boarding pass. Passengers who do not opt in, and do not have a consent indicator on their mobile boarding pass, will not be able to participate at this time.

Additional information on the DTW and ATL pilots can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

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

How will this improve passenger experience?

The use of biometrics has the potential to automate the ID and boarding pass verification process for more efficient and secure screening.

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

Biometric recognition capabilities will improve the performance and security of TSA operations by increasing assurance of traveler identity. Biometrics can enable TSA to automate part of the current manual procedures and allow professional screening personnel to leverage their training and experience to focus more on anomalies and error resolution.

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

TSA publishes Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) to provide the public with notice about tests and additional information on privacy protections. TSA also provides notice to passengers via signage at the airport near dedicated test lanes. These signs notify the public that participation is voluntary.

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

No. TSA is testing biometric technology at the airport to automate the identity verification portion of the 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.

How is personally identifiable information (PII) handled for tests using biometric technology? Is my PII protected?

Consistent with the DHS Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs), TSA retains PII only for as long as is necessary to fulfill the specified purpose(s) of biometric technology pilots. DHS’s FIPPs and TSA’s PIAs provide guidance on matters such as transparency, specific use limitations, data minimization, and purpose specification for our biometric identity verification pilots. Additional information regarding data protection procedures for each test is available in TSA’s PIAs.

Does TSA protect all data (photos) collected during testing of biometric technology?

TSA is committed to protecting passenger privacy and secures all personal data collected as part of our biometric efforts. TSA will continue to comply with DHS policies with respect to safeguarding PII throughout each phase of biometric solution development – from initial design to implementation – to protect traveler information. Additionally, all capabilities TSA tests adhere to DHS and TSA cybersecurity requirements.

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

If TSA is unable to obtain a match through the biometric technology as part of a test, the TSA officer will use standard traveler identity verification procedures.

How is TSA addressing the matching error rate issues with facial matching and facial identification 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 our federal partners, we are 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 understand the full benefits of this technology and make informed decisions to mitigate risks.

What role will biometric technology play in TSA’s response efforts to COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted how TSA must perform its mission. TSA must prioritize the health and safety of our officers and the traveling public. To promote social distancing and reduce contact between officers and passengers, we are exploring a self-service version of CAT using a camera to verify a live image capture against the image on a credential (e.g., passport or ID photo). The device enables passengers to scan their own identity documentation for authentication and biometrics identity matching, thereby reducing unnecessary contact between officers and passengers. TSA demonstrated this technology in late August 2020 at DCA. TSA also conducted additional pilots at DCA, PHX, IND, and MIA to further test this technology.

What is a Mobile or Digital Driver’s License?

A mobile or digital driver's license is a digital representation of the information contained on a physical identification document, stored on or accessed through a mobile device, such as a smartphone. A mobile or digital driver’s license is similar to a credit card holder having a physical credit card and multiple card records in digital wallets that require biometric verification prior to each transaction.

How does TSA plan to address the privacy/security concerns that accompany the adoption of digital identification?

On April 19, 2021, DHS published a request for information to inform an upcoming rulemaking that will address security and privacy standards for the issuance of mobile driver’s licenses and enable federal agencies to accept these credentials for official purposes as defined in the REAL ID Act and regulation. Through the request, DHS invited comments and information that would facilitate understanding the economic, privacy, security, environmental, energy or other impacts that mobile or digital driver’s licenses may present.

May passengers currently use digital forms of identification at TSA checkpoints?

No. Digital forms of identification are not currently valid at TSA checkpoints.

Will digital forms of identification be REAL ID compliant?

TSA is evaluating the impact of the REAL ID Act’s provisions on its ability to accept digital identification at the airport checkpoint. On April 19, 2021, DHS published a request for information to seek public comment to inform an upcoming rulemaking that will address security and privacy standards for the issuance of mobile driver’s licenses and enable federal agencies to accept these credentials for official purposes as defined in the REAL ID Act and regulation.

How does accepting digital ID enhance traveler security and experience?

The acceptance of digital IDs has the potential to modernize checkpoint screening procedures and technologies to better serve the aviation security ecosystem, reduce points of contact for travelers, and pave the way for a more seamless travel experience.

Will the eventual implementation of digital identification allow TSA to build a national database of identification information?

No. TSA would be able to receive a traveler’s digital identification information at TSA checkpoints only upon consent from the traveler. Travelers will control access to and use of their digital identification that is kept in their mobile device. Generally, TSA does not copy or store the digital identification, unless it is done in a limited testing environment for evaluation of the effectiveness of the pilot. In that instance, TSA will inform the traveler through signage and other means.