Biometrics enhances accuracy without adversely impacting timeliness (DHS ICR part three)

This post is adapted from Bredemarket’s November 10, 2021 submitted comments on DHS-2021-0015-0005, Information Collection Request, Public Perceptions of Emerging Technology. See my first and second posts on the topic.

DHS asked respondents to address five questions, including this one:

(2) will this information be processed and used in a timely manner;

Here is part of my response.

I am answering this question from the perspective of a person crossing the border or boarding a plane.

During the summer of 2017, CBP conducted biometric exit facial recognition technical demonstrations with various airlines and airports throughout the country. Here, CBP Officer Michael Shamma answers a London-bound American Airlines passenger’s questions at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Photo by Brian Bell. From https://www.cbp.gov/frontline/cbp-biometric-testing

From this perspective, you can ask whether the use of biometric technologies makes the entire process faster, or slower.

Before biometric technologies became available, a person would cross a border or board a plane either by conducting no security check at all, or by having a human conduct a manual security check using the document(s) provided by an individual.

  • Unless a person was diverted to a secondary inspection process, automatic identification of the person (excluding questions such as “What is your purpose for entering the United States?”) could be accomplished in a few seconds.
  • However, manual security checks are much less accurate than technological solutions, as will be illustrated in a future post.

With biometric technologies, it is necessary to measure both the time to acquire the biometric data (in this case a facial image) and the time to compare the acquired data against the known data for the person (from a passport, passenger manifest, or database).

  • The time to acquire biometric data continues to improve. In some cases, the biometric data can be acquired “on the move” as the person is walking toward a gate or other entry area, thus requiring no additional time from the person’s perspective.
  • The time to compare biometric data can vary. If the source of the known data (such as the passport) is with the person, then comparison can be instantaneous from the person’s perspective. If the source of the known data is a database in a remote location, then the speed of comparison depends upon many factors, including network connections and server computation times. Naturally, DHS designs its systems to minimize this time, ensuring minimal or no delay from the person’s perspective. Of course, a network or system failure can adversely affect this.

In short, biometric evaluation is as fast if not faster than manual processes (provided no network or system failure occurs), and is more accurate than human processes.

Automated Passport Control kiosks
located at international airports across
the nation streamline the passenger’s
entry into the United States. Photo Credit: 
James Tourtellotte. From https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/apc

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