Homeland Security

U.S. biometric exit could be ready inside of four years


Acting Customs and Border Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told a Senate panel that biometric exit technology could be installed in airports nationwide within four years.

A biometric exit capability allowing CBP to track visa holders leaving the county has been a protracted challenge for the agency.

McAleenan, who is facing confirmation to hold the top CBP job on a permanent basis, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that the agency planned to expand current trials at five international airports to all major airports in the U.S. in four years.

Currently, CBP has the technology on trial at single departure gates at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Houston William P. Hobby Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"Beginning in early 2018, CBP is working to fully scale out air biometric exit and will spend 2018 working with stakeholders to get commitment to deploy biometric exit technology," he told the senators.

John Wagner, CBP deputy executive assistant commissioner, told a May 23 House Homeland Security panel on visa overstays that his agency was "out of time and out of excuses" for not having such a program.

Wagner said that the agency had potentially solved a key technical hurdle, by developing a way to query a temporary database of photos instead of the entire federal bank of photos to compare against passengers on the flight.

At a Nov. 14 FedScoop government innovation conference, Wagner said the key to cracking the decade-old issue was working with the airlines to physically install the technology. Airline boarding gates in most U.S. airports, he said, simply can't accommodate new, large-footprint CBP-mandated technology. CBP realized that and worked with the airlines to develop a technical capability that doesn't require the large new systems to be installed at gates.

"We put the functionality out there and let the airlines develop the interface," Wagner said.

That collaborative approach, he said, could allow easier and more efficient implementation of advanced biometric capabilities down the road, such as allowing international airline passengers to use their photos as boarding passes.

In his responses to Senate committee questions, McAleenan said he also plans to expand biometric trials to land ports of entry in the coming months. In late 2017, he said in his response, CBP will implement a mobile fingerprinting trial for some pedestrian departures at border crossings in Champlain, N.Y., Brownsville, Texas, and San Ysidro, Calif.

In fiscal 2018, he said, the agency will deploy facial recognition technology at entry and departure points in Arizona, including at DeConcini and Morley Gate ports of entry in Nogales and San Luis.

McAleenan said that while a comprehensive deployment schedule was still under development, the initial deployments at DeConcini and San Luis will begin next summer.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • Congress
    U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)

    Funding bill clears Congress, heads for president's desk

    The $1.3 trillion spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 22 and the Senate in the early hours of March 23. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, securing government funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.