The United States is getting more high-tech when it comes to knowing exactly who is entering and leaving the country.

Biometric Air Exit, a facial recognition program, is being used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and airline partners at more than a dozen international airports. A CBP spokesman told the Deseret News its goal is to have full implementation across the country’s international airports within the next four years.

It works by using facial recognition, with a camera onsite comparing your face with existing images from passports, visas and other travel documents.

Delta has announced its first biometric terminal will open in December at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It plans on using facial recognition at various points in the terminal from the curb to the gate. Passengers could have their face quickly scanned to check bags instead of getting out identification and then use the camera at the boarding gate with no need to pull out a boarding pass. Using the facial identification at the Transportation Security Administration’s security checkpoint means passengers won’t have to take electronics out of their bags. TSA security will still require passengers to present a passport.

The scan and subsequent verification is fast. If you have the latest facial recognition technology on your phone, then you understand its speed. Demonstration video from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority shows off its veriScan technology as it would be used when passengers board at the gate. As people approach the screen, they pause for only a moment as it quickly verifies their identity and they walk right on to the gangway.

This speedy face scanning replaces the need for a gate agent to check a passport and compare it to a boarding pass. British Airways reports its biometric gates at Los Angeles International allow it to board more than 400 customers in only 22 minutes which is half the time it takes using normal boarding procedures.

The other goal in using facial recognition is security. Within three weeks of implementing the biometric entry screenings at Washington Dulles International, CBP intercepted two people on two separate occasions trying to enter the U.S. with passports that were not theirs. In a statement, CBP’s Director of the Baltimore Field Office Casey Durst said, “The new facial recognition technology virtually eliminates the ability for someone to use a genuine document that was issued to someone else.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that defends civil liberties in the digital world, says privacy is an issue with facial recognition, also stating it has accuracy problems, “especially for non-white travelers.”

In June, Sen. Mike Lee joined Sen. Ed Markey in releasing a statement saying the Department of Homeland Security needs to address critical privacy and security concerns.

“American travelers deserve to know exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether,” according to the statement.

A CBP spokesman clarified to the Deseret News via email how long the photos are kept.

“CBP is working towards reducing the retention period of U.S. citizens’ photos to no more than 12 hours after identity verification,” the spokesman said. The government will keep photos of all other travelers for up to 14 days in secure CBP systems to evaluate the technology and to ensure accuracy of the facial recognition process.

At this time, U.S. citizens are not required to use the facial recognition technology when exiting or entering the country. Those who would like to opt out should alert a CBP officer or a representative of the airline or airport. The passenger would present travel credentials as they have in the past, which may take a little longer.

Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on

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