- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2018

The federal government is touting its new facial recognition software at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, as a critical tool in fighting fraud — but passengers are blaming the software for long queues at the end of lengthy international flights.

Melanie Galloway, of Frederick, Maryland, was returning Thursday afternoon to the U.S. with her husband and two children from a trip to Scotland. They arrived at Dulles to find long lines of travelers zig-zagging slowly toward customs checkpoints in the international terminal.

“Immediately as you got out the door [of a tram], the mezzanine was just full of people,” she said. “They were holding people up because there wasn’t any more room on the lower level. The whole place was full. It was mobbed.”

She asked a nearby official for an explanation and was told that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had instituted a new system on Monday.

“He said the agents don’t know how to use it, they’re still learning it, and that they didn’t have enough people,” Ms. Galloway recounted.

The slowdown shows up in the numbers.

During the week of Aug. 5, before the new system went into effect, the average wait time for U.S. citizens at the international terminal was no more than 26 minutes. For the week of Aug. 19, with the new facial-recognition system in place, the longest average wait time for U.S. citizens was 75 minutes through Wednesday.

Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that mans the ports of entry and deployed the new software, acknowledged “slightly elevated wait times during peak travel” at Dulles, though it pointed to several other factors including the unwieldy setup of the airport, which requires buses to get passengers to and from the international terminals, and a busy summer travel season.

“We generally see more than 25 flights between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. with upwards of 5,000 travelers being processed through CBP during that time,” the agency said.

Officials did acknowledge that the new system had a role in delays — though they said it wasn’t the fault of the technology.

“The new technology is a contributing factor solely because there is a 3-5 day educational curve for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers using the new technology to process travelers,” the agency said.

More to the point of the technology, the system scored its first catch on the third day of operation when it snared an imposter posing as a French citizen. The 26-year-old man, whose name wasn’t released by authorities, flew in from Brazil with French documents. But the facial comparison biometric system said he didn’t match his passport.

He was sent to a secondary screening, where authorities said he became nervous, When they searched him, they found his real ID, from the Republic of Congo, concealed in his shoe.

CBP said the man “could” face prosecution.

“The new facial recognition technology virtually eliminates the ability for someone to use a genuine document that was issued to someone else,” said Casey Durst, director of the agency’s Baltimore field office.

The Congolese man was the first to be caught by the new technology, which has been deployed to 14 airports. CBP said the system provides “a level of convenience for the traveler.”

Those in lines at Dulles this week, though, were looking for ways to speed things up.

Ms. Galloway heard other passengers discussing a mobile app that enables travelers to take a photograph of their passport’s bar code and of their face, to match up with the government’s facial-recognition system.

The customs line for people with the mobile app was slightly shorter than other lines, so Ms. Galloway and her family were able to get through customs in less than an hour. She said others weren’t so lucky.

“Everybody was questioning, ‘What is going on?’” she said. “I don’t know if it was a training issue, or whether the new process actually takes longer than the old process. When we were going through, it was still totally full of people behind us.”

She said of the new system, “It’s great that technology can do that, but at what cost? They’ve got to be able to do it in a way that isn’t impacting the 99.9 percent of everybody else who’s just trying to move in and out legally.”

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles, said: “Dulles International and the airlines serving the airport work closely with our partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the TSA [Transportation Security Administration], to ensure passenger processing is as quick and efficient as possible.”

Melanie Galloway, of Frederick, Maryland, was returning Thursday afternoon to the U.S. with her husband and two children from a trip to Scotland. They arrived at Dulles to find long lines of travelers zig-zagging slowly toward customs checkpoints in the international terminal.

“Immediately as you got out the door [of a tram], the mezzanine was just full of people,” she said. “They were holding people up because there wasn’t any more room on the lower level. The whole place was full. It was mobbed.”

She asked a nearby official for an explanation and was told that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had instituted a new system on Monday.

“He said the agents don’t know how to use it, they’re still learning it, and that they didn’t have enough people,” Ms. Galloway recounted.

The slowdown shows up in the numbers.

During the week of Aug. 5, before the new system went into effect, the average wait time for U.S. citizens at the international terminal was no more than 26 minutes. For the week of Aug. 19, with the new facial-recognition system in place, the longest average wait time for U.S. citizens was 75 minutes through Wednesday.

Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that mans the ports of entry and deployed the new software, acknowledged “slightly elevated wait times during peak travel” at Dulles, though it pointed to several other factors including the unwieldy setup of the airport, which requires buses to get passengers to and from the international terminals, and a busy summer travel season.

“We generally see more than 25 flights between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. with upwards of 5,000 travelers being processed through CBP during that time,” the agency said.

Officials did acknowledge that the new system had a role in delays — though they said it wasn’t the fault of the technology.

“The new technology is a contributing factor solely because there is a 3-5 day educational curve for U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers using the new technology to process travelers,” the agency said.

More to the point of the technology, the system scored its first catch on the third day of operation when it snared an imposter posing as a French citizen. The 26-year-old man, whose name wasn’t released by authorities, flew in from Brazil with French documents. But the facial comparison biometric system said he didn’t match his passport.

He was sent to a secondary screening, where authorities said he became nervous, When they searched him, they found his real ID, from the Republic of Congo, concealed in his shoe.

CBP said the man “could” face prosecution.

“The new facial recognition technology virtually eliminates the ability for someone to use a genuine document that was issued to someone else,” said Casey Durst, director of the agency’s Baltimore field office.

The Congolese man was the first to be caught by the new technology, which has been deployed to 14 airports. CBP said the system provides “a level of convenience for the traveler.”

Those in lines at Dulles this week, though, were looking for ways to speed things up.

Ms. Galloway heard other passengers discussing a mobile app that enables travelers to take a photograph of their passport’s bar code and of their face, to match up with the government’s facial-recognition system.

The customs line for people with the mobile app was slightly shorter than other lines, so Ms. Galloway and her family were able to get through customs in less than an hour. She said others weren’t so lucky.

“Everybody was questioning, ‘What is going on?’” she said. “I don’t know if it was a training issue, or whether the new process actually takes longer than the old process. When we were going through, it was still totally full of people behind us.”

She said of the new system, “It’s great that technology can do that, but at what cost? They’ve got to be able to do it in a way that isn’t impacting the 99.9 percent of everybody else who’s just trying to move in and out legally.”

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles, said: “Dulles International and the airlines serving the airport work closely with our partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the TSA [Transportation Security Administration], to ensure passenger processing is as quick and efficient as possible.”

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