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Hobby Airport Now Using Biometric Tech on International Arrivals

Hobby Airport now relying on full biometric facial comparison technology to parse all international arriving and departing passengers

February 21, 2020

Claiming wait times at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection checkpoints will be cut by nearly half through the use of facial comparison technology, operators at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) launched Texas’s first full-fledge program to execute full biometric entry and exit for passengers who are traveling internationally.

“Hobby Airport has taken a big leap into the future of travel,” Houston Aviation Director Mario Diaz said. “Simplified Arrivals will enhance the travel experience for the one million international passengers traveling through Hobby Airport every year. This is an important step to realize our goal of becoming a 5-star airport.”

The enhanced entry process complements the biometric exit process that CBP, Houston Airports (HAS) and Southwest Airlines introduced in November 2018. In 2017, George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) was one of only three airports in the nation to deploy facial recognition technology when a pilot program for biometric exiting was launched.

When international travelers arrive at the airport, they will pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. CBP’s biometric facial matching service will compare the new photo of the traveler to images that the traveler previously provided to the government, such as passport and visa photos. If a traveler cannot be matched to a photo on record, the CBP officer will process the traveler manually, which could end up taking a lot more time.

Travelers who wish to opt out of the new biometric process may notify an officer as they approach the primary inspection point. Travelers who opt out of the new biometric process will be required to present a valid travel document for manual identity verification by a CBP officer and processed consistent with existing requirements for entry into the United States.

Strong technical security safeguards are in place and the amount of personally identifiable information used in the facial biometric process is limited. The system posits that new photos of U.S. citizens will be deleted within 12 hours. Photos of foreign nationals, however, will be stored for an undisclosed amount of time in a secure DHS system.

CBP claims that it has used biometric facial comparison technology since September 2018 and has identified more than 250 imposters who tried to enter the United States by presenting a genuine travel document that belonged to another person.

Houston Airport System

Linking George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and Ellington Airport (EFD) / Houston Spaceport, the Houston Airport System served nearly 60 million passengers in 2019 as one of North America’s largest public airport systems. Houston is an international passenger and cargo gateway to the South Central United States and a primary gateway to Latin America.