SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — New facial recognition technology is greeting international passengers in the Bay Area.

Mineta San Jose International Airport just became the first airport on the west coast to commit to fully adopting U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s new biometric security system.

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Officials said the system uses cameras and facial recognition technology to identify travelers as they enter or leave the United States.

They also said the system provides better security while moving security lines more quickly.

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“We are solving an incredibly complex security mandate: a legislative requirement to take biometrics from departing visitors without creating gridlock and shutting down air travel,” explained John Wagner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“It’ll be as simple as walking up, having your picture taken. In two to three seconds, you’ll board the aircraft,” Wagner added.

The airport has been test-running the new system since June. Officials said wait times averaged about 25 minutes when they started, but that time has now been cut down to about 21 minutes.

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The software identifies travelers’ facial features and compares them with passport photos already in the system. This provides the same electronic verification which border agents already do.

But civil liberties groups oppose facial recognition. They say this type of security system doesn’t work as advertised and can evolve into a tool for spying on American citizens.

“There was an officer, and we took our picture. That was the only time we took a picture. So I don’t know if that’s the new biometric [system]  or not.,” said James Dai, a traveler at Mineta San Jose

Other travelers that spoke to KPIX said that the security check went by quickly. They didn’t seem to be bothered by privacy issues.

“I think that would help to secure more. Better protection. That’s a good idea,” said Rabia Nadeem, another traveler.

Airport officials said the new system will be fully operational for international flights this fall.


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