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Tampa International Airport to spend $1 million on biometric face scanners

TAMPA — Tampa International Airport is testing the use of face-scanning technology at three of its international gates with plans to spend $1 million to scan all passengers leaving on flights heading out of the country.

The airport is acquiring the technology in cooperation with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress mandated Customs officials to find a way to begin screening international travelers using biometric methods — that is, the statistical analysis of biological characteristics — as well as biographical information such as names, dates of birth, passport numbers and countries of origin.

Tampa offered to pay for the biometric scanners for outgoing international fliers in the hope that will help Customs bring incoming passenger screening to Tampa sooner.

"We want U.S. Customs to have the ability to process our arriving international passengers much more efficiently, much more expeditiously," Tampa International executive vice president of operations and customer service John Tiliacos said Wednesday. Last fall, Tiliacos saw the technology in action at Orlando International Airport, the first airport in the country to commit to using it. "Based on what I observed, it clearly makes a difference in terms of getting passengers through quicker."

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Currently, the airport is testing scanners from three prospective vendors for reliability, durability and ease of use at three international gates, Tiliacos said. After the month-long test, the airport plans to pick a vendor to install facial biometric scanners at all 10 of its international gates by the end of 2020.

The scanners, which look something like an iPad or tablet computer, are mounted on the boarding gate kiosks. As international passengers approach, the scanners take a photo of their faces and compare it with a database of images that include passport photos, photos that Customs takes when someone enters the country and other travel documents. Customs officials say the facial recognition verification process takes less than 2 seconds, with a 99 percent matching rate.

Customs officials say the photos are taken only to validate a traveler's identity, are stored in a secure cloud-based environment, that only Customs has access to the data and that industry partners in the program only receive results of the "match/no match" determination. Photos of U.S. citizens are deleted within 12 hours of verification.

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times