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The PHL's biometric scanner, depicting the image of a man with several areas selected by the machine to highlight distinct facial features. In the background a glass door leading to another hallway is visible.
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia International Airport installs facial recognition technology in boarding process

To streamline the identity verification process of those leaving the country, PHL offers the option to scan your facial biometrics as a form of identification.

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The Philadelphia International Airport is installing facial recognition technology in order to assist the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) process departing passengers on international flights, comparing their facial biometrics with photos already provided to the government in passports or visas.

Due to a Congressional mandate, CBP biometrically records all foreign nationals exiting and entering the U.S., though this excludes select travelers like Canadian citizens who do not need a visa to enter the U.S. and diplomatic visa holders.

This mandate has led to discussions over privacy rights, leading to victories by privacy advocates including the reduction of time biometrics of U.S. citizens can be held from 14 days to 12 hours, preventing the retention of biometrics for business purposes, and public statements of how this identifying information will be collected, stored, and used.

Some privacy protections only apply to U.S. citizens, as non-citizens’ photos will be stored within a secure DHS database.

“The safety and security of our passengers and airport employees are our top priority and require a collaborative effort by the City of Philadelphia Department of Aviation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and our airline partners,” said PHL Chief Operating Officer Keith Brune in a press release. 

“We are excited to move forward with the installation of biometric technology at PHL. This system will make the screening process more efficient for everyone and is especially important as international travel continues to grow post-pandemic,” he continued.

PHL will be partnering with CBP to install facial recognition equipment to collect biometrics of travelers exiting the U.S., as the CBP has built the facial biometric matching service that relevant organizations — such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — can access when identity verification is required. 

To streamline their efforts, CBP has implemented the complementary "Simplified Arrival" process for arrivals to PHL, using facial biometrics to verify travelers’ identities and further secure the entry process.

“Customs and Border Protection and PHL Airport have partnered to expand the use of facial biometrics to provide international travelers with a secure, touchless departures process for identity verification and that protects the privacy of all travelers,” said Joseph Martella, CBP’s Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia, in a statement. 

“Currently, CBP has processed more than 249 million travelers through facial biometrics and prevented more than 1,650 impostors from illegally entering the country. CBP will continue to explore emerging technologies to help improve travel efficiencies, the traveler experience, and enhance our nation’s security,” he continued.

Travelers who do not wish to have their face recorded may request a manual document check from a CBP Officer or an airline or airport representative, and be processed with existing requirements for entry to the United States.

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