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Facial-recognition technology at Dulles catches 3 impostors entering US

Dulles International Airport is one of the main airports in the D.C. area. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

WASHINGTON — Three times in a 40-day span, people trying to enter the U.S. at Dulles Airport have been declared impostors by Customs and Border Protection officials.

Steve Sapp, with the border protection service, said the cases were flagged through the use of biometric verification technology in use at Dulles and more than a dozen other airports around the country.

On Monday, a woman on a flight from Accra, Ghana, presented a U.S. passport at Dulles, but CBP officials say when the facial recognition technology found a mismatch, it was determined she was actually a citizen of Cameroon. That case is now under investigation.

Two similar cases have been reported since August. A Congolese man was caught using a French passport Aug. 22; a Ghanaian woman using a U.S. passport, Sept. 8.

Sapp said the facial recognition system is used when people enter the country. “When a foreign visitor walks up to our inspection booth, the first thing we do is we take a photograph of that individual.” That photo is matched against the photo on the passport chip or the travel manifest. “We’ll know right there, in matter of seconds, whether that person in front of us, with the travel document, is the authentic holder of that travel document.”

If someone is found to be an impostor, Sapp said, “The next step after that is either criminal proceedings or we remove the person from the country.”

Sapp said he couldn’t comment on the status of the three people mentioned in the CBP news release “Because I believe that some of them are still under investigation.”

Privacy concerns have been raised about the use of such biometric systems, but Sapp said, “We’re not capturing any new data. The information that we use is a photograph of the passport holder that is already in the passport system.”

Sapp also said customs officials don’t target travelers from any particular country. “With biometric entry, all travelers coming in from overseas into the United States are examined this way.”

Standards for U.S. citizens leaving the country are different, Sapp said. “American citizens may opt out and use a different means to verify their identification.”


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