Biometrics Technology

TSA is evaluating the use of biometric technologies to enhance security effectiveness, operational efficiency, and the passenger experience while protecting privacy and civil liberties.

TSA’s exploration of biometric technologies is scientifically driven and capitalizes on significant advances in biometric accuracy, speed, and the ability to automate processes to help move passengers through screening more quickly.

In recent years, TSA began testing biometrics to identify passengers at the checkpoint and we continue to evaluate the use of proven and emerging solutions to further understand operational impact, security gains, and policy implications.

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

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

  • TSA Biometrics Roadmap: Outlines TSA’s plans to transform aviation security operations using biometric technology through four key goals: partnering on biometrics for international travelers, operationalize biometrics for TSA PreCheck®, expand biometrics to additional domestic travelers, and associated objectives and guiding principles to include security and operational effectiveness, privacy, and cybersecurity.
  • Identity Management Roadmap: Builds upon the success of the TSA Biometrics Roadmap and articulates a comprehensive end-to-end strategy for Identity Management at TSA. Identity Management is critical to TSA’s mission as it ensures the right people have access to the right transportation infrastructure areas at the right time.
  • TSA Myth Busters: Highlights myths and facts regarding TSA’s biometric technology efforts.
  • TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Report to Congress on Deployment of Biometric Technologies: Describes TSA and CBP development and implementation of biometric technologies.
  • TSA Privacy Impact Assessments: Explains how TSA identifies and mitigates privacy risks and notifies the public what personally identifiable information (PII) is being collected and how it is collected, used, accessed, shared, and safeguarded during the use of biometric technologies.

  • TSA-CBP Biometric Technology Pilot for Trusted Travelers: Outlines ongoing testing at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ALT).

  • Digital Identity Phased Rollout: Outlines ongoing testing at select airport checkpoints.

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 based on rigorous scientific study and analysis by testing these solutions in TSA’s laboratories and operational environments in collaboration with Department of Homeland Security components, other federal agencies, airlines, airports, and industry partners.

Facial matching, digital identity, and facial identification technologies can play an important role in enhancing the TSA checkpoint by automating current manual ID verification procedures.

1:1 Facial Matching

TSA is testing 1:1 (one to one) facial matching capabilities by integrating a camera that will take a picture of a passenger and compare the photo to the image on their photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license, using Credential Authentication Technology 2 (known as CAT-2). This approach does not require a database of pre-staged images because it simply compares an image from the document presented by the passenger against an image taken of the passenger at the checkpoint.

Digital Identity

In recognition of the increased use of digital identity documents, TSA is evaluating their potential impact on aviation security and operations. TSA is upgrading CAT machines with biometric, digital identity, and self-service capabilities (CAT-2) in response to COVID-19 and the growing availability of robust identity solutions in the market.

1:n Facial Identification

TSA is also testing 1:n (one to few) facial identification capabilities by using  the Traveler Verification Service to compare a passenger’s live image to a database of pre-enrolled reference photos. This solution is currently being developed for the TSA PreCheck® Application Program and CBP Global Entry Program trusted traveler populations. You can find additional information on CBP’s Traveler Verification Service  on CBP’s biometrics webpage. This solution will be integrated with CAT-2 in TSA PreCheck® lanes.

Current Tests: Building on What TSA Has Learned

1:1 Facial Matching

In August 2020 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), TSA demonstrated CAT-2. 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. In 2022, TSA started conducting additional pilots to further evaluate CAT-2 performance.

During the tests, TSA will verify a live image captured to the image on a credential (e.g., passport or driver’s license). The device enables passengers to scan their own identity documents for authentication and biometric identity matching, 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 and may instead notify a TSA officer if they prefer a standard ID check.

Digital Identity

TSA began deploying CAT-2 units in early 2022 to support the phased rollout of state-issued mobile driver’s licenses, mobile identification cards, and other types of digital IDs. During the initial stages of the rollout, TSA is only accepting these IDs from TSA PreCheck® passengers for testing and evaluation. TSA plans to expand this effort and will release information about additional airports, states, devices, and partners. Passengers without TSA PreCheck® may be able to use state-issued mobile driver’s licenses and mobile identification cards at a future date.

Additional information on digital identity can be found here.

1:n Facial Identification

In March 2021 at DTW, TSA and CBP, in cooperation with Delta Air Lines, began a pilot for Trusted Travelers (e.g., TSA PreCheck® and CBP Global Entry members). This pilot tests the use of CBP’s Traveler Verification Service systems to verify a passenger’s identity at the TSA checkpoint. The technology compares a photo of the passenger taken at the checkpoint to a pre-staged gallery of photos previously provided to the government for travel purposes (i.e., passport). In November 2021, the pilot was expanded to support the baggage drop touchpoint at ATL, and in May 2022, the pilot launched at the ATL checkpoint

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

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

Yes. Currently, all passengers must continue to have their physical IDs on hand. If a digital ID cannot be verified at the TSA security checkpoint, a passenger must use an acceptable physical identity document (e.g., driver’s license, passport) to proceed through the identity verification process.

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 passenger information. In addition to cybersecurity measures that ensure all data is protected while in transit and while at rest, biometric technology transforms passenger photos to templates that cannot be reverse-engineered to recreate the original image. Additionally, all capabilities TSA tests adhere to DHS and TSA cybersecurity requirements.

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 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 on data protection procedures for each test is available in TSA’s PIAs.

TSA exploration of biometric solutions is based on rigorous scientific study and analysis. We are aware of a variety of public concerns related to the accuracy of biometric technologies and take this issue seriously. Along with our federal partners, we are carefully studying biometric solutions in both laboratories and operational environments to proactively identify and mitigate performance issues up front. Accuracy and equity in biometric system performance is a key issue for TSA, and one we are carefully studying to ensure we understand the full benefits of this technology and make informed decisions to mitigate risks.

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 passengers, and pave the way for a more seamless travel experience. This effort is one of the steps TSA is taking under President Biden’s Executive Order on Transforming Customer Experience.

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

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

Biometric recognition capabilities will improve the performance and security of TSA operations by increasing the accuracy and reliability of passenger identity verification by TSA. 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 alarms and error resolution.

No. TSA is testing biometric technology at the airport to improve and perhaps automate the identity verification portion of the process for 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.

A digital ID is an electronic representation of personally identifying information that may be used to verify the identity of a person. A mobile driver's license is a type of digital ID. It is a digital representation of the information contained on a state-issued physical driver’s license, stored on a mobile electronic device, such as a smartphone, and read electronically. A mobile 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. A digital ID may also be issued by a non-governmental entity based on information derived from governmental or non-governmental sources.

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the commercial aviation sector and on TSA’s aviation security 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 Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) that enables passengers to scan their own photo IDs for authentication and uses biometrics to verify passenger identity, eliminating a point of contact between officers and passengers. This updated version of CAT (known as CAT-2) biometrically verifies a passenger’s identity by taking a picture and comparing the passenger’s live image to the photo on their authenticated photo ID (e.g., driver's license, passport). TSA first demonstrated this technology in August 2020 at DCA. TSA also conducted additional pilots to further test this technology, starting in March 2021 at DCA, PHX, IND, and MIA. TSA has since upgraded the CAT-2 units to feature a digital ID reader, updated user interface, and other enhancements including a new podium and space for additional processing power. Starting in March 2022, TSA began conducting field tests to assess these upgraded CAT-2 units.

TSA began testing the acceptance of digital IDs, including mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs) from participating states, at select TSA PreCheck® checkpoints in early 2022. Checkpoints that are testing the acceptance of digital IDs will have signage posted. TSA is actively engaged with other organizations to continue developing capabilities, standardizing the digital ID ecosystem to ensure interoperability with TSA systems, and piloting digital ID technology at various airport checkpoints around the country.

 Participating Field Assessment Pilot Airports

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)
  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • Gulfport Biloxi International Airport (GPT)
  • Harry Reid International Airport (LAS)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

Below is the current list of eligible digital IDs from state or private issuing authorities that may be accepted by TSA at the checkpoint for testing and evaluation purposes.

Participating State/Issuing Authority

Eligible Digital ID

American Airlines American Airlines Digital ID on Android and iOS Devices

Arizona

Mobile Driver’s License in Apple Wallet

Colorado Mobile Driver’s License in Apple Wallet

Maryland

Mobile Driver’s License in Apple Wallet

The REAL ID Modernization Act (2020) clarified that the REAL ID Act applies to state-issued mobile driver’s licenses and mobile identification cards (collectively "mDLs"). 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 mDLs and enable federal agencies to accept these credentials for official purposes as defined in the REAL ID Act and regulation.

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