CBP Announces New Facial Biometric Comparison Technology at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa Border Crossings

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced the implementation of Simplified Arrival at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa pedestrian border crossings in San Diego, CA.

Simplified Arrival, an enhanced international arrival process that uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States, provides travelers with a secure, touchless travel experience while fulfilling a longstanding Congressional mandate to biometrically record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens.

“CBP is excited to announce the successful expansion of biometric facial comparison technology to the nation’s largest land border port of entry, San Ysidro, and the Otay Mesa pedestrian border crossing to further secure and streamline entry into the United States,” said Diane J. Sabatino, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner of Field Operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “As part of our ongoing land border innovation efforts, CBP is developing a range of enhanced processes and services for travelers that are not only touchless and efficient, but provide an additional layer of security and protect the privacy of all travelers.”

San Ysidro is the world’s busiest land border crossing, located between San Diego and Tijuana. In Fiscal Year 2019 alone, CBP processed nearly 40 million passengers. Although travel dropped due to COVID 19 restrictions in FY 2020, the crossing still saw more than 24 million travelers last year. Located east of San Ysidro, Otay Mesa is the nation’s fourth largest POE, with approximately 16 million travelers crossing the border in 2019 and 10 million last year.

Simplified Arrival only uses the biometric facial comparison process at a time and place where travelers are already required by law to verify their identity by presenting a travel document. When a traveler arrives at the pedestrian lanes or undergoes I-94 processing at San Ysidro or Otay Mesa, he or she will pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. A CBP officer will review and query the travel document, which will retrieve the traveler’s passport or visa photo from government holdings. The new photo of the traveler will be compared to the photo previously collected.

The facial comparison process only takes a few seconds and is more than 97 percent accurate. In addition, foreign travelers who have traveled to the U.S. previously will no longer need to provide fingerprints, as their identity will be confirmed through the touchless facial comparison process.

Simplified Arrival pairs one of the industry’s highest ranked facial comparison algorithms (as assessed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology) with trained CBP officers who are skilled at verifying the authenticity of travel documents. If a traveler cannot be matched to a photo on record using the Simplified Arrival process, the traveler will proceed through the traditional inspection process consistent with existing requirements for entry into the United States.

U.S. travelers and those foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics and wish to opt out of the new biometric process may notify a CBP officer as they approach the primary inspection point. These travelers will be required to present a valid travel document for inspection by a CBP officer and will be processed consistent with existing requirements for admission into the United States.

CBP is committed to its privacy obligations and has taken steps to safeguard the privacy of all travelers. CBP has employed strong technical security safeguards and has limited the amount of personally identifiable information used in the facial biometric process. New photos of U.S. citizens will be deleted within 12 hours. Photos of most foreign nationals will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system.

To date, more than 59 million travelers have participated in the biometric facial comparison process at air, land and sea ports of entry. Since September 2018, CBP has leveraged facial biometrics to prevent more than 300 imposters from illegally entering the United States by using genuine travel documents that were issued to other people.