Facial Recognition Tech Catches US Airport Imposter for First Time Ever

Aug 24, 2018

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New facial recognition technology at Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport (IAD) stopped an impostor attempting to get through the immigration checkpoint with a fake passport, officials said Thursday.

The man was taken into custody in a first-of-its kind arrest in which a biometric facial recognition system detected and stopped passport fraud.

His authentic-looking but fraudulent document probably would have passed muster under solely human judgment, federal authorities noted. The facial recognition system was implemented at the airport on Monday and stopped the imposter on its third day of use.

Officials said the fraudster was a 26-year-old man who landed at IAD on Wednesday after a flight from Sao Paolo, Brazil (GRU). He presented a French passport at Dulles’ customs checkpoint. After using the biometric facial comparison program, the immigration officer determined that the man’s face did not match the picture on the passport he claimed was legit, US Customs and Border Protection said.

Agents flagged the man for a secondary screening, during which officials said the man became visibly nervous. Customs officers searched the man and found an identification card from the Republic of Congo hidden in his shoe.

(Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
(Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Dulles is one of 14 airports that began testing the technology on Monday. The facial scanners use an algorithm to match biometric markers of travelers’ faces to pictures on their passports, visa or other identifying travel documents. Officials say the systems are 99% accurate. The technology is popping up at airports around the world. Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) is testing the biometric technology and will install it throughout its terminals in about a year. Airport representatives say that the tech could help replace passengers’ passports and even scan the terminal to find flyers who are about to miss their plane.

Even the Transportation Security Administration says facial scanners might one day replace boarding passes. “CBP is assessing the use of biometric technology as part of a future end-to-end process, from check-in to departure, in which travelers use biometrics instead of their boarding pass or ID throughout the security and boarding processes,” US federal customs officials said. One TSA checkpoint at New York’s JFK Airport is testing out facial recognition tech.

US Customs and Border Protection told TPG that biometric technology can process passengers in 7-10 seconds instead of 1-2 minutes — a difference that will really add up for long passport check lines or other swamped security checkpoints.

Airlines are already beginning to use facial recognition to board planes. Lufthansa used it earlier this year to board an A380 in 20 minutes. And Marriott debuted a feature this summer that lets guests check-in to some of its hotels using only their faces.

Featured image by Ian Waldie/Getty Images.

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