- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 21, 2016

Facial-recognition software meant to weed out travelers with fake passports will be rolled out to all international airports in the U.S. as part of a plan to crack down on identity fraud among visitors from countries with visa waiver agreements, according to Customs and Border Protection.

The move was announced this week as the State Department is expected to tighten restrictions on travelers from visa waiver countries who have recently visited Iran, Iraq, Syria and potentially fought for the Islamic State.

CBP launched the use of facial-recognition technology at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday to help verify the identify of travelers entering the United States. This comes after a two-month trial of the technology at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2015.

A CBP spokeswoman said the facial-recognition technology will be deployed full time at Dulles beginning in February.

Both U.S. citizens returning to the country and first-time visitors from the 38 countries that are allowed to enter the United States without a visa will be required to have photos taken.

In the case of U.S. citizens with e-Passports, the photo will be compared against the data stored in computer chip embedded in the document.

“Any U.S. citizen with an e-Passport arriving at a port that is participating in this project may be selected for facial comparison matching at port discretion,” states a Privacy Impact Assessment update on the project from the Department of Homeland Security.

The program will also be used on first-time travelers from visa waiver program countries who are 18 and older “because DHS has identified an appreciable risk of passport and identity fraud among this population of travelers,” the DHS document states.

“This biometric capability will aid our officers in identifying legitimate travelers while protecting them from fraud and identity theft with little to no delay to the entry process,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske.

Though the photo-recognition program has long been in the works, with the test program operational at Dulles from March to May in 2015, lawmakers and federal officials have grown increasingly concerned with tightening travel protocols since the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The State Department is expected to formally announce its new visa waiver rules in the coming days, but had apparently leaked the plan by posting the information on U.S. embassy websites Thursday morning.

Politico reported that the postings, which were later taken down, state that anyone from the 38 countries visa waiver program countries who has dual citizenship in Iran, Iran, Syria or Sudan or has visited those countries since March 1, 2011, will now be required to obtain a visa before visiting the United States. Some exceptions will be made for individuals who have traveled for business, government, journalistic or humanitarian reasons, Politico reported.

Through the photo-recognition program, photos of visitors and U.S. citizens taken through the program will only be retained when travelers are “subject to an adverse or law enforcement action resulting from secondary inspection,” the DHS document states.

All other facial-recognition images will be deleted, according to the agency.

It was unclear when the facial-recognition software would be deployed to airports beyond JFK and Dulles.

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