Will Passports Be Replaced by Biometrics?


In the year ahead, the use of biometrics — an individual’s unique physical identifiers, such as fingerprints and faces — will be expanded at airports in the United States and abroad, a shift to enhance security, replace physical identification such as passports and driver’s licenses, and reduce the amount of time required by travelers to pass through airports. Biometric technology will be seen everywhere from bag drops at the check-in counters to domestic security screening.

In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration is expanding its program allowing passengers to opt in for a security screening relying on a facial recognition match with their physical identification — a photo taken in real time is compared against a scan of a license or passport and assists the T.S.A. officer in verifying a traveler’s identity. This program is currently available at 30 airports nationwide, including Salt Lake City International Airport and Denver International Airport; the T.S.A. said it will expand to more than 400 airports in the coming years.

T.S.A. PreCheck travelers who are flying on Delta Air Lines may not even need to show their identification at all during bag drop and security, if they opt in to Delta’s digital ID program.

The program, which compares a photo taken at the airport to one in a database of trusted travelers (compiled by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency), takes about 40 seconds, said Greg Forbes, Delta’s managing director of airport experience. The pilot program is now available at five airports, including La Guardia Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

Internationally, Singapore’s Changi Airport plans to adopt facial recognition technology for departing passengers, no longer requiring them to show their passports.

Neville Pattinson, head of North America business development for biometrics for Thales, a global technology company, said travelers will start to get increasingly familiar with using biometrics.

“We see much less interaction needed by the traveler, making it less stressful and more seamless,” Mr. Pattinson said. “We’re seeing biometrics really help the travel industry cope with the volumes of travelers going up and the need to really process people quicker.”

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