Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport is set to launch a facial recognition system for international passengers, making it the first airport in Texas to have biometric entry and exit for international passengers.
“Hobby Airport has taken a big leap into the future of travel,” Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz said. “We could not have reached this technological milestone without the help of our partners — CBP and Southwest Airlines. Simplified Arrivals will enhance the travel experience for the one million international passengers traveling through Hobby Airport every year. This is an important step to realize our goal of becoming a 5-star airport.”
With the enhanced entry process, Hobby Airport joins Houston Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in the state as entry points featuring biometric capabilities.
Houston Airport started working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Southwest Airlines to introduce the feature in November of 2018, while George Bush Intercontinental was one of the first three airports in the country to deploy facial recognition when the pilot program was launched in 2017.
“CBP is committed to working with our partners to ensure that the travel system is secure and efficient,” said Houston Director of Field Operations Judson W. Murdock II. “The speed, accuracy and reliability of facial comparison technology enable CBP officers to confirm a traveler’s identity within seconds while further enhancing the customer experience.”
The system will work by having travellers pause for a photo at a primary inspection point, and then using CBP’s biometric facial matching service to have their photo compared to one from an official document such as a passport or visa. If the system is unable to find a positive match verifying the traveller’s identity, a CBP officer will intervene to process them manually.
The use of facial recognition and biometric authentication systems is rapidly growing throughout the world, especially in airports. Concerns over the use of the technology usually centre around the privacy rights of individuals and the use of their biometric data once it has been captured.
To allay some of these concerns, U.S. citizens using the facial matching service at Hobby Airport will have their images deleted within 12 hours, while foreign nationals’ images will be stored in a secured Department of Homeland Security database.
Even still, travellers have a choice to opt out of the new biometric process, and can do so by notifying an officer as they approach an inspection point, after which they will be required to present valid travel documents for a manual identity verification by a CBP officer.
February 20, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis