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 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 CBP’s report to Congress on biometric deployment: Describes TSA and CBP development and implementation of biometric technology.
  • TSA Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs): Identify and mitigate privacy risks that 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 Trust Travelers: Available at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
  • Digital Identity Phased Rollout: Available 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 in 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 biometric capture with Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) to verify a passenger’s live image against the image on their photo ID (e.g., passport or driver’s license) (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. 

Your ID on iPhone and Apple Watch. Airport security just got easier.

Starting Spring of 2022, residents of eligible states will be able to add their driver’s license or state ID to Apple Wallet and present it with their iPhone or Apple Watch at select airports and TSA checkpoints in an easy, private, and secure manner.

Easier   

With your driver’s license or state ID in Apple Wallet on iPhone and Apple Watch, presenting your ID at select TSA checkpoints just got easier.  Just hold your device near the identity reader, confirm, and go. 

Private

Your ID in Apple Wallet on iPhone and Apple Watch is presented digitally between your device and the identity reader, so you’ll never need to show or hand over your iPhone or Apple Watch to the TSA.

Secure

Your ID in Apple Wallet is secure with Face ID and Touch ID, the built-in security features of iPhone. This makes it so only you can present your driver’s license or state ID to the TSA. 

Click here to learn more about ID in Apple Wallet.

1:n Facial Identification

TSA is also testing 1:n (one to few) facial identification capabilities by utilizing the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 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. More information on CBP’s Traveler Verification Service can be found 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. TSA plans to conduct additional CAT-2 pilots in 2022.

During the tests, TSA will verify a live image capture against 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, 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. Passengers may notify a TSA officer if they prefer a standard ID check.

Digital Identity

TSA will be deploying CAT-2 units in early 2022 to support the phased rollout of mobile driver’s licenses and digital IDs. During the initial stages of the rollout, TSA will only accept select mobile driver’s licenses and digital IDs from TSA PreCheck® passengers. TSA plans to expand this effort in the coming months and will be releasing information about additional airports, states, devices, and partners. Passengers without TSA PreCheck® status will be able to use mobile driver’s licenses at a future date.

Additional information on digital identity can be found here.

1:n Facial Identification

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 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). In November 2021, the pilot was expanded to support the baggage drop touchpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL. In 2022, the pilot will include 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

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 using 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 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. In addition to cybersecurity measures that ensure that 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.

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 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 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 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 ID 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 against the photo on their authenticated photo ID (e.g., license, passport). TSA 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.

What is a Mobile Driver’s License?

A mobile driver's license is a type of digital ID. It is a digital representation of the information contained on a physical driver’s license, stored on or accessed through a mobile device, such as a smartphone. 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.

When will the phased mobile driver’s license rollout start? Which airports/states will be first in line for this new technology?

TSA will begin accepting digital IDs, including eligible mobile driver’s licenses and State ID’s from participating states, at select TSA PreCheck® checkpoints beginning in March 2022. The initial rollout at PHX Airport will only accept mobile Driver’s Licenses and State ID’s issued by Arizona. Checkpoints that accept mobile driver’s licenses 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.

Will citizens from AZ, LA, OK, UT, CO, and other states that already issue mobile driver’s licenses be able to use their mobile?

Upon initial rollout, TSA will only accept mobile driver’s licenses stored in the Apple Wallet app from TSA PreCheck® passengers at select checkpoints. TSA will release information about additional airports, states, and partners before future rollout in select states. One of TSA’s priorities is to ensure mobile driver’s licenses can be used securely and privately to protect personal information. Currently, TSA is coordinating with state DMVs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other stakeholders to align our digital identity strategies with industry standards (e.g., ISO/IEC 18013-5; NIST SP 800-63A) and industry best practices to securely receive and authenticate digital ID information and verify a person’s identity.

Do passengers still need to bring physical IDs to the airports?

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.

Will digital forms of identification be REAL ID compliant?

TSA is evaluating the impact of the REAL ID Act’s provisions on our 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 will only be able to receive a traveler’s digital identification information at TSA checkpoints upon consent from the traveler. Travelers 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 traveler through PIAs, signage, and other means.