Face Scanning at Airports Facing Difficulties

Face scanning at airports is being initiated by the Department of Homeland Security, but even though a rollout date isn’t expected until 2021, its future is still in danger because of “technical and operational challenges.”

DHS’ Future with Face Scanning

Facial recognition is becoming more mainstream the more we progress in technology. While just a few years back Apple introduced Touch ID on their mobile devices, this year they abandoned that on all devices and replaced it with Face ID.

The idea here is for Customs and Border Protection to roll out the face scanning feature at U.S. airports. Working with the help of airlines, the goal is to trial it at one airport at a time with the idea of tracking passengers as they leave the United States.

While U.S. citizens can opt out of the program, facial scanning will be mandatory for all foreign nationals and visitors as they leave the country. The goal is for Customs and Border Patrol to more easily prevent people from overstaying their visas. There are those who feel doing so violates privacy rights.

With the goal of being operational in twenty U.S. airports by 2021, it’s currently in use at nine airports. But this goal, while seeming entirely possible since it is nearly halfway there and three years away, is being questioned.


Aside from the concerns of violating privacy rights, the inspector general report is calling out technical issues that may prevent the Department of Homeland Security from hitting their mark.

Facial Scanning Technical Difficulties

“During the pilot, CBP encountered various technical and operational challenges that limited biometric confirmation to only eighty-five percent of all passengers processed,” said the inspector general report.

“These challenges included poor network availability, a lack of dedicated staff, and compressed boarding times due to flight delays.” The face scanners did not “consistently match individuals of certain age groups or nationalities,” continued the report.

While the system did show that 1,300 visitors to the U.S. were overstaying the time they were allowed to be in the U.S., the report suggested that more people could have been found if it wasn’t running at just an eighty-five percent success rate.

Because of this, Customs and Border Patrol “may be unable to meet expectations for achieving full operational capability, including biometrically processing one-hundred percent of all international passengers at the twenty busiest airports,” stated the report.

Additionally, there is a question regarding the assistance of airlines with the program while staffing issues are being dealt with as well. The airlines need to be relied on to do the scans, while CBP works on the background checks.


CBP “plans to rely upon airport stakeholders” for purchasing equipment, such as digital cameras to take the photos at boarding gates, and this is also posing “a significant point of failure” for the program.

“Until CBP resolves the longstanding questions regarding stakeholder commitment to its biometric program, it may not be able to scale up to reach full operating capability by 2021 as planned,” according to the report.

The CBP disagrees with the report and says it will “develop an internal contingency plan” in the event airlines and airports are unwilling to help. Additionally, a spokesperson for the CBP told TechCrunch that since the report, their biometric matching is averaging ninety-seven percent, a significant increase.


All of this comes along with increased efforts on behalf of CBP to control foreign-born people in the United States, specifically with immigration and not necessarily those only interested in only visiting the country.

But aside from the moral and legal difficulties of the other efforts, the face scanning effort has to rely on technical efforts, and this is still a new technology. Along with the problems of assistance from airlines and airports, it’s throwing the whole program into question.

What do you think of the moral reasons for tracking people via facial recognition? Should this be a legal method of controlling visitors to a country? Let us know your thoughts!

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

One comment

  1. So our privacy is further eroded. One of these days we will wake up with all privacy gone but, by that time, it will way too late to do anything about it.

    “All of this comes along with increased efforts on behalf of CBP to control foreign-born people in the United States”
    Put up the damn wall along the entire Mexican border and the influx of foreign-born people into the United States will be cut by 90%. There is a choice that needs to be made, either pay for the wall or pay to chase the foreign-born all over the map.

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