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FBC Newsletter - February 2023



 
What’s New at FBC?

The year is off to a great start.

Our new multi-modal working groups are in full swing with participation from industry and government officials from both Canada and the U.S. These working groups help us pinpoint our advocacy efforts, and the findings and recommendations will be presented at our October Transportation Summit. Check the information below if you are interested in participating.

Our January webinar on Digital Identity and Facial Biometrics gave us a great overview on how the technology is making the U.S.-Canada border travel safer and more efficient. Make sure to read the issue summary below.

We are pleased to see several new members joining the FBC Community. A huge welcome to Air Transport Association of Canada, Canadian Trucking Alliance and National Airlines Council of Canada. Thank you also to current members who are renewing their memberships! Please take a moment to check that your membership is up to date. And, if you’re still thinking about it, please jump off the fence and make a commitment to our important work.

Our planning for a spring meeting in Ottawa is well underway. Please keep a lookout for a save the date in the coming days.


 

FBC Issue Summary:

Your face is your password: How biometric facial comparison technology is making US-Canada border travel safer and more efficient

Border officials and travel industry stakeholders are increasingly turning to facial biometric comparison technology (FBCT) as a reliable tool for identify verification. However, while FBCT is creating a more efficient and secure travel experience, it also raises questions about public trust and privacy.

In January 2023, Future Borders Coalition hosted an online discussion with Casey Durst, Executive Director of Operations, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Denis Vinette, Vice-President of the Travellers Branch, Canada Border Services Agency to learn more about how their organizations are using FBCT.

How does FBCT work? What are the benefits?

Under the old system, a border officer had to decide whether the person standing in front of them matched the photograph in the ID they presented. This system relied heavily on an officer’s cognitive abilities as well as the quality of the photograph in the document.[1] By contrast, facial biometric use advanced technologies to generate results that are far superior to the human eye in speed and accuracy. Not only is FBCT more reliable, it is much faster, allowing border officers to process an incredible number of passengers in a short time. (Consider the time savings if CBSA officers at Toronto Pearson Airport able were able to shave 40 seconds off the processing time of each of 40,000 daily passengers.)

With the added accuracy and time savings of FBCT, border officials can quickly identify low-risk travelers and send them on their way, focusing resources on the minority of individuals who cannot be verified through the automated system. It is important to note that these technologies are not replacing human officers. Biometrics provide decision support tools that make the human officer's job easier, and also improve the quality decisions and the speed of throughput.

Once an officer has determined a traveler’s identity, the rest of the process is easy. Identify verification opens up a host of onward services such as automated customs declarations, e-visas, and even immigration facilitation. The potential is even greater for any part of the traveler journey that needs identity confirmation, e.g., airline, cruise, etc.

[1] Other factors affecting recognition include age related changes in appearance, changes in hairstyle, etc.

Measuring Success
CBP

Performance metrics show that biometric facial comparison is performing accurately and at scale. To date, CBP officers have processed over 265 million travelers using biometric facial comparison technology. FBCT has allowed them to confirm some 182,000 U.S. overstays and over 1600 impostors. CBP has an extraordinary match rate with this technology of over 99.5% on entry and 98.1% on exit.

Facial biometrics have been implemented at 238 airport sites,[2] including all 14 CBP preclearance locations, and 36 locations for air exit. In the air mode, that represents some 110 million inbound passengers and 40 million outbound. CBP has also implemented facial biometric comparison at 36 seaports (with more expansion planned), cutting passenger debarkation time by up to 30%.

FBCT is used by CBP at all pedestrian lanes at the southwest and northern border ports of entry. It is also used for vehicles at the Buffalo, NY and Brownsville, TX crossings. For more information see: https://biometrics.cbp.gov

[2] CBP’s Simplified Arrival is enhanced international arrival process that uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States.

CBSA

More than 100 million travelers typically come to Canada during a non-COVID year. To manage this demand, CBSA uses BFCT to make processing faster and more secure and as a first step to other services such as advance declarations, self-serve kiosks and e-gates.[3] Today, over 95% of air passengers entering Canada are using a primary inspection kiosk or an e-gate and nearly 60% of passengers submit an advance declaration online. Since launching e-gates in August 2022 Toronto Pearson Terminal 1, CBSA reports a 70% time savings for passengers.

At NEXUS lanes at land borders, an officer does a visual verification to the NEXUS photo on file, but CBSA is looking to move towards a fully biometric option at land border sites. Canada is also looking at FBCT to provide greater awareness and accuracy to the immigration process and may soon be used to streamline the processing of new immigrants, refugee claims, and international students. See more information about CBSA metrics here.

[3] Primary inspection kiosks (PIKs) are self-service tools that allow travelers to verify their identity and make onscreen customs declarations. E-gates verify identity and permit access with a tap of the passport.

Public Trust and Social Acceptance

In terms of social acceptance, people are becoming more and more comfortable with using their face as their password to open apps on their phones and to access other digital services. Border agencies in the United States and Canada ensure public trust in biometric identity verification by operating according to strict rules of data privacy, encryption, and limited retention.

U.S. and Canadian border agencies only use biometric facial comparison technology at times and places where travelers are already required to present proof of identity. Photos are retained for a very short period of time and images are encrypted, stored and deleted according to strict protocols.

CBSA and CBP emphasize that the use of their use of digital services is voluntary. People have the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not to utilize biometrics and other automated border services. A useful analogy is how people access banking services. Some people feel more comfortable going inside the branch and speaking to the teller, while others prefer the convenience of online or kiosk services.

By putting more choice into the hands of passengers and being very transparent about the options available, border agencies are making a traveler’s journey more predictable and reducing anxiety associated with border crossing.

Dealing with demographic bias

Demographic bias, i.e. the idea that certain racial or other biometric characteristics will produce inaccurate results for certain groups of people, is a concern for users of AI technology. In general, biases in biometric technologies tend to be the product of problems with the AI algorithms or with the data included in learning models used to train the algorithms. [4]

To address these concerns, Canadian and U.S. officials have committed to continuous improvements of their technologies and engagement with scientists, regulators, and the public to ensure highest possible standards are met. Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as improving the lighting at the site where the image is captured. At other times, it involves training the algorithms with more extensive data sets.

However, document-centric identify verification, i.e. comparing face identification to a government document, has been shown to be one of the least biased methods of proving identity. At the border, officers are able to compare live images to a preestablished facial gallery of expected individuals. While CBP doesn’t capture race information on travelers, they note that their extremely high match rates - above 98% - speaks to the accuracy of their systems.

CBSA has set up a separate office of biometrics mandated to conduct ongoing research and link with academia to make sure technology usage meet public expectations. They have also engaged Canada’s Privacy Commissioner to ensure that processes are consistent throughout the Government of Canada and uphold the requirement to ensure equal access of services to all individuals.

[4] US NIST has done a good job testing technologies for their degree of racial bias and has pointed to models and vendors that are superior in this regard to others. See https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/SpecialPublications/NIST.SP.1270-draft.pdf/

Canada – U.S. Collaboration

Canada and U.S. border officials maintain daily contact to ensure smooth operations and policy coordination. As two sovereign states, there are occasional differences in rules and cultural norms, but the citizens of both countries share common goals of security, privacy, and ease of travel.

This culture of collaboration between the United States and Canada is strengthened by engagement with international institutions and best practices such the Border Five partnership[5]and ICAO’s Digital Travel Credentials. Also both countries are working to raise the bar for secure and touchless travel worldwide through global intelligence sharing and capacity building.

[5] The Border 5 is a partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. designed to enhance international cooperation and coordination on border security.

Expanding the stakeholder network to optimize the passenger experience

Border agencies are not the only ones using FBCT. Similar technologies are used by airports, security screening entitities such as TSA and CATSA, airlines, cruise ships, motor coaches, rail, hotels, and sports and recreation facilities. Expanding interoperability and information sharing across the travel ecosystem is the next wave of building a more secure, more efficient cross-border travel experience.

While there can be challenges, such as when different vendor technologies don’t talk to one other, expanding the network of cooperation and alignment is key to optimizing the end-to-end passenger experience. Partner collaboration is not just a “nice to have” it is essential to helping border authorities fulfill their mandate. An example of this is the important work performed by airlines in collecting inbound and outbound passenger data.

What does the future look like?

While things are advancing well in the air and maritime modes, land border processes have not changed much. There is much work to be done on digital identity verification, advance declarations, and management of group travel. More than 66% of US-Canada border land crossings are day trips so improvements at the land border have a direct economic impact on tourism and cross border business, especially in border communities. The governments in both countries have promised renewed attention to land borders. We should expect to see some pilots on advance declaration at land ports of entry shortly.

Meanwhile, the entire community of border stakeholders salutes the recent efforts of CBP and CBSA to help clear the backlog of NEXUS enrollments and renewals through such measures as sequential processing options, and the elimination of the interview step for many renewals. FBC applauds the opening of a new joint center in Ogdensburg, NY.

Conclusion

Biometric facial comparison provides a swift, secure, and touchless travel experience. It opens the door to a host of other traveler modernization services such as e-visas and advance customs declarations. When officers are not spending most of their time comparing faces to pictures, they can focus their resources on a minority of higher risk or unknown individuals.

Cooperation between CBP and CBSA is helping to ensure a consistent and transparent procedure for Canadian and American travelers, and creates an environment where challenges can be resolved as they arise. In short, there are no problems that are too big for our partnership to solve.


 

Working Groups

FBC working groups draw participants from Canada and U.S. government, private sector, industry and academic organizations. The working groups have identified key priority areas and action items for 2023.These bi-monthly meetings are a confidential space for frank discussions with industry and government in the U.S. and Canada. The Chatham House rule applies. Please see below the list of working groups and the dates for next meetings. If you are interested in joining, please e-mail Henna Rennie at henna.rennie@futureborderscoalition.org.

End-to-End Passenger Experience
  • Topics to be covered include Intermodal Coordination, Building Resilience Against Disruption, Trusted Traveller and Preclearance.

  • Next meeting: March 29, 2023 11:30AM-12:30PM ET | 8:30AM-9:30AM PT

Border Technology for Travel and Trade
  • Topics to be covered include Digital ID and Privacy, Aligning Passenger Screening Technology, and Trusted Traveller and Preclearance.

  • Next meeting: March 31, 2023 | 11:30AM-12:30PM ET | 8:30AM-9:30AM PT

Supply Chains and Corridors
  • Topics to be covered include Border Modernization for Supply Chains, Single Window/Trusted Trader Programs, Border Workforce, Automation and Remote Screening, AI/IOT, and Data Reporting.

  • Next Meeting: February 17, 2023 | 11:30AM-12:30PM ET | 8:30AM-9:30AM PT

 

Media and Announcements

Laura talks about trade and the North American Leaders Summit on CBC Newsworld, January 11, 2023.

Check out Solomon Wong’s chapter, “Beyond Preclearance, Future Borders, Digital IDs and Privacy Management: A Technology and Policy Roadmap for Border Processing,” in Borders and Migration: The Canadian Perspective in Comparative Perspective, a new book from Borders In Globalization and the University of Ottawa Press.

Know a promising aviation student? Send them this link to the Gerry Bruno Scholarship provided by InterVISTAS and the Canadian Airports Council. Applications due by March 22, 2023.


 

New Member Spotlight

We are pleased to welcome three new members to the FBC Community!


Help us build a better border

FBC is committed to building a better border for travel and trade. You can help through expert advice, membership, and financial support. Please take a moment to check that your membership is up to date. And, if you’re still thinking about it, please jump off the fence and make a commitment to our important work. Contact laura.dawson@futureborderscoalition.org for more information.



 


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