Border biometrics burgeoning in North America as US, Canada expand identification tech

Both the U.S. and Canada are stepping up their use of biometrics at the border, in an effort to expedite entry into the countries, and also enhance security by identifying known persons.

In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security reportedly plans to launch a new facial recognition system at land borders this summer, dubbed the “Vehicle Face System,” according to sources who spoke with The Verge. The new system is said to begin a testing period at the Anzalduas border in Texas in August, after necessary privacy reviews are completed.

The new system will capture the faces of drivers and passengers crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The images, captured through the windshield of a vehicle, will then be compared to government photos on file.

DHS’s Vehicle Face System will reportedly scan and attempt to recognize the faces of everyone visible in a car in both the inbound and outbound lanes. The images will then be compared against visa and passport photos on file, allowing for the identity of travelers to potentially be verified before they even encounter a Customs and Border Protection official.

Meanwhile, the country’s neighbor to the north is also expanding its use of biometrics, as Canada plans to require biometric data from visitors from Europe, the Middle East and Africa who are traveling to Canada.

Just before the U.S. program kicks off in August, Canada’s biometric requirement will take effect on July 31 for those who wish to visit, work, study or immigrate in the country, according to Digital Journal. Applicants from the EMEA regions must then provide fingerprints and a photo as part of their application with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Canada plans to expand the requirement to applicants from Asia, Asia-Pacific, and the Americas starting on Dec. 31, 2018. Those traveling from the U.S., however, will remain exempt.

Biometrics can take on many forms, from traditional fingerprints and facial scans to more sophisticated behavioral patterns. Within the OWI Identity Building Blocks, biometrics fall under the process of Identity Authentication, which is defined as the process of determining that one is transacting with the same entity iteratively over time. Other forms of biometrics can include voice recognition or an iris scan, while behavioral biometrics can apply to how a user walks or how they type on a computer.

OWI Insight: Biometrics are a logical, easy and friction-less way of securing borders, and implementing the technology is becoming more affordable than ever. While there are privacy concerns with using biometrics on an unsuspecting public, border security is an issue where most citizens feel comfortable sacrificing some privacy in order to ensure safety. These kinds of national security focused government border programs will only grow and become more sophisticated in the coming years — and if lines at customs are shorter and faster, travelers probably won’t mind one bit.