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What’s in a Face? Airports Add New High-Tech Layer of Security

The U.S. State Department has begun using facial-recognition software to crack down on fake passports and identity fraud in passengers who are eligible for visa waivers. After two months of testing at Washington Dulles Airport in 2015, the software is now in use at Dulles and New York’s Kennedy Airport.

The Department of Homeland Security has identified a risk of passport and identity fraud among passengers from countries that have visa-waiver agreements with the U.S. and who have recently travelled to countries such as Iran, Syria, and Iraq, where they could have associated with the Islamic State. The facial-recognition software will be used for travelers who fall in this category, as well as first-time travelers, aged 18 and over, from countries involved in the visa-waiver program.

“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,” R. Gil Kerlikowske, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, said in a press statement.

Now, U.S. citizens returning home and first-time travelers to the U.S. who are from the 38 countries that can enter the U.S. without a visa must have their photos taken. The photo will be compared against a photo stored in a computer chip for U.S. citizens with e-Passports. Most photos will be deleted, although the DHS will save photos of people who are “subject to an adverse or law enforcement action resulting from secondary inspection,” according to DHS information.

In addition, visitors from visa-waiver countries who have dual citizenship in Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Iraq, and who have visited those countries since March of 2011, must now get a visa before they enter the U.S. People traveling for reasons related to business, journalism, government, or humanitarianism may be able to bypass this rule.

Government officials have not announced when the software would be implemented at other airports.