Philadelphia to Install Facial Recognition Scanners at 25 Gates

As Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is going to deploy facial biometric technology more widely, travelers may see tech-enabled security measures at more boarding gates.

In collaboration with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the airport was initially testing three different scanning machines over a 45-day period.

The airport announced this month that it would install facial biometric technology at 25 boarding gates in Terminals A-East and A-West.

Face recognition at PHL airport
Biometric Facial Service at PHL airport. Courtesy PHL Airport YouTube video.

Scanners will take live pictures of travelers and compare them with those from their government passports and visas.

A three-phased implementation will be carried out for the new security measure. It has already begun with the first phase, which spans 10 gates. Additional 10 gates will be equipped with the technology later this month or in February, and the remaining five gates will be equipped by April.

Keith Brune, PHL’s chief operating officer, said the biometric face scanners will increase international travelers’ safety.

“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,” Brune said.

He also expressed his opinion about the efficiency of the airport as the number of travelers are increasing rapidly after the pandemic.

“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 added.

With the help of CBP, PHL will install equipment that will collect biometric information from travelers exiting the country. In order to verify traveler identity across the entire air travel journey, including check-in, bag drop, security checkpoints, and boarding, CBP built facial biometric matching services that airlines, airports, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can access. 

Besides utilizing facial biometrics to verify travelers’ identities, CBP has implemented the complementary Simplified Arrival process on entry to PHL to further secure and streamline the entry process.

Joseph Martella, CBP’s Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia talked about the travelers privacy,

“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,”

He also showed his concern about illegal entry into the country and how to deal with those issues with technology. 

“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.”

However, the facial biometric process is a voluntary process for the U.S. citizens. They can skip the biometric process by notifying a CBP officer or an airline or airport representative to make a manual document check.

CBP only stores the foreign travelers photos in a secure DHS database. They discard all photos of U.S. citizens within 12 hours of identity verification.

PHL is using SITA’s Smart Path solution powered by the NEC I:Delight digital identity management platform to verify the passengers.

Upon entering the biometric touchpoint, the system captures the passenger’s picture and sends it to CBP for matching with existing images stored in CBP’s database. Passengers can board their aircraft without showing a passport or boarding pass once their identity has been verified.

SITA President of the Americas, Matthys Serfontein said,

“We are pleased to bring our biometric solution to PHL and help the airport meet the CBP’s mandate for biometric U.S. exit checks. With Smart Path, the process is fast, efficient, and eliminates the need to fumble for your passport or boarding card.”

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