What Will Pittsburgh International Airport’s New Facial Comparison Machines Do?

The technology differs from the controversial facial recognition software.


New technology at Pittsburgh International Airport will soon make a custom agent’s job a little bit easier.

Facial comparison machines are being installed at Pittsburgh International and other airports across the U.S. starting this year and continuing through 2023. They’re going to replace automated passport control machines where, instead of filling out a paper Customs declaration form, passengers will proceed directly to electronic kiosks in the passport control area. Travelers will then scan their passports, take a photograph using the kiosk and answer a few questions verifying biographic and flight information. Officials say the whole process can take as little as 30 seconds.

“It does speed up the process and can save time,” said Brian Stashak, director of Landside and Terminal Operations at Pittsburgh’s airport, to Blue Sky News.

Without the technology, agents have to look back and forth, verifying passport information while at the same time making sure the person they’re talking to is the person in the photo. And for passengers, this can mean a longer line and extended wait times while their identity is being verified. 

But still, this technology differs from facial recognition software — a technology that uses dozens of points of comparison and searches various databases to identify an individual. This controversial identification software has been repeatedly decried by activists and abandoned by various law enforcement agencies, due in part to its inability to accurately recognize women and people of color.

Instead, the technology the airport is implementing is facial comparison software. Data for these machines is gathered from passport and via photos that passengers submit to airlines — a far more limited base of information than that which facial recognition software uses.

“This is not facial recognition. It’s a limited collection of photos and documents kept on file for maybe 12 hours,” Donald Josey told Blue Sky News. Josey is the assistant director for passenger operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Philadelphia, whose office oversees immigration at Pittsburgh International Airport.

American citizens will be able to opt out of the technology, but non-citizens cannot.

There are 12 of these machines being installed at Pittsburgh International Airport for international flights. They will be installed at every airport in the country by next year.

As of now, there are no plans for this technology to be adopted by the TSA.

Categories: The 412