The next SFO may feature facial recognition technology

When San Francisco regulators voted to ban the use of facial recognition technology in the city in 2019, the ordinance exempted facilities such as San Francisco International Airport from federal regulation.

Airports have avoided the controversial technology, but TSA is aggressively beefing up its ID verification technology, and facial screening technology could appear at SFO as early as 2023.

TSA is already piloting facial-scanning technology at 16 major airports across the country, including San Jose International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. SFO officials expect the technology to be imminent as California continues to adopt digital driver’s licenses as official documents.

“I can’t name all of the considerations, but we do see a correlation between the availability of mobile driver’s licenses and the rollout of CAT-2,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel. “We know that the California DMV is working on their version of the mobile driver’s license. , but the rollout of CAT-2 may have to wait until this digital certificate is available here.”

On Nov. 11, SFO employees perform routine maintenance on a machine at SFO in San Francisco, California.  16th, 2022.

On Nov. 11, SFO employees perform routine maintenance on a machine at SFO in San Francisco, California. 16th, 2022.

Lance Yamamoto/SFGATE

International travelers passing through U.S. Customs and Border Protection at San Francisco International Airport may be familiar with facial recognition technology. Customs has been testing SFO for passport control on international flights.

A TSA spokesperson told SFGATE that they are not currently conducting any facial recognition pilots at SFO. But the airport has been prepared. The SFO is using new Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) machines to verify travelers’ identities as a first step.

The CAT machine is an authenticator without showing TSA a boarding pass with ID. The machine is connected to the Secure Flight database, which confirms the passenger’s flight information within 24 hours to ensure that the passenger’s ticket is issued on the same day.

The 16 airports piloting biometric readouts are using CAT-2, which is equipped with a camera to capture real-time photos of travelers.

TSA began testing facial recognition at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., in 2020, with TSA PreCheck passengers voluntarily participating.

The Washington Post reported that TSA wants to expand the use of facial recognition technology at airports across the U.S. as early as next year, but must first submit an application to the Department of Homeland Security.

Currently, no travelers are compelled to use face scanners. If you are traveling at an airport with a CAT-2 machine and wish to skip face scanning, you have the right to opt out and show TSA your ID.

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