HOUSTON - Some international travelers are getting an extra layer of security at Bush Intercontinental Airport as new high-tech face scanners are being tested out.
The Houston airport is now one of seven in the nation using the new technology. It's part of a growing pilot program run by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. Because it's still new, it's used just once a day on one flight headed to Tokyo.
“In 2004 Congress mandated that the Department of Homeland Security to begin taking biometric information from people exiting the U.S. we started off with fingerprints, and now here we are taking pictures,” said Alicia Tellez, chief CBP officer.
It's an added measure of security that some flyers say makes them feel at ease.
“Everyone gets anxious on planes, we’re in the air, so you want to know whoever is traveling with you is really them, and they’re not causing a threat to anyone,” said Michelle Varon.
“It had to happen, you knew it was coming, there’s a lot of fraudulent documents running around,” said Bill Shaver.
The way it works is quite simple; right before you board your flight, you scan your boarding pass using the device. The facial recognition cameras attached to it snaps your photo and compares it to your passport picture. When the two match, you're good to go. The new step takes less than 30 seconds.
Customs officials say this technology applies to everyone - visitors, legal residents and U.S. citizens.
As far as privacy is concerned, officials say traveler’s personal information isn’t shared with anyone, including with the airlines, who provide the traveler manifesto.
The pictures of U.S. citizens are stored for two weeks. For everyone else, the photos can be kept for up to 15 years.
Travelers will still have to go through security checkpoints.