Full implementation of technology needed to track visa holders leaving the U.S. could be ready at airports across the U.S. in the next four years, but cooperation from airlines is key.
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.
NEXT STORY: A Consumer Product Safety Commission for cyber?