Biometrics Technology

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.

Biometric Technology

TSA is exploring the use of biometric technology to enhance security effectiveness, improve operational efficiency and yield a more streamlined passenger experience. TSA is collaborating with Department of Homeland Security components, airlines, airports and industry partners to test biometric technology solutions. TSA is grounding its exploration of biometric solutions in rigorous scientific study and analysis, in addition to working with partners across the federal government to evaluate the performance of biometric technology solutions for TSA’s operational environments.

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.

1:n Facial Identification

TSA is also testing 1:n (one to many) facial identification capabilities by utilizing CBP’s 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

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. Based on further analysis of the DCA pilot, TSA is conducting formal field tests with volunteer passengers at DCA, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Indianapolis International Airport (IND), and Miami International Airport (MIA). TSA also plans to demonstrate the technology with volunteer passengers at Denver International Airport (DEN). 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.

TSA is also continuing to collaborate with CBP on an ongoing facial identification technology pilot at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s (ATL) International Terminal F. This pilot provides an alternative means to verify passengers’ identity when they begin screening at a TSA security checkpoint. During this pilot, TSA and CBP are jointly providing an optional, end-to-end biometrics experience. The technology used is CBP’s Traveler Verification Service.

As part of this test, passengers flying directly to and from an international destination (specifically via ATL International Terminal F) are also able to take part in an optional biometric recognition process for checking baggage, with an airline agent present for assistance.

In early 2021 at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in cooperation with Delta Air Lines, will begin a pilot for Trusted Travelers (e.g. TSA PreCheck® and CBP Global Entry members). This pilot will use 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, visa).

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 boarding pass. Passengers who do not opt in, and do not have a consent indicator on their boarding pass, will not be able to participate at this time. 

Additional information on the DTW pilot 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 biometrics 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 beyond what current manual processes alone can provide. 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 will allow 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 is conducting additional pilots at DCA, PHX, IND, MIA, and DEN to further test this technology.