New facial recognition scanners at Sea-Tac airport

There’s a new security measure at Sea-Tac Airport and it comes from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, not the Transportation Security Administration.

People flying out of the airport to international destinations may find themselves in front of a new facial recognition scanner. CBP installed the scanners at one gate in Sea-Tac in mid-June, as part of a pilot program.

A sign at Gate S15 warns travelers that their photo might be taken before they can board the plane, though there is a way to opt out for now.

In the traditional way of boarding international flights, your passport is physically checked before you can get on the plane. Now with the new tool, your face is scanned instead.

It's part of a pilot program CBP is testing at about a dozen airports across the U.S.

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The project stems from a 2004 congressional mandate to keep tabs on travelers with biometrics to help keep the country safe.

“If this is helping out in terms of ensuring security and also ensuring no identity theft, I think it's good,” said Minal Merchant, a Seattle resident flying to Dubai.

There are already many tools in place to find people trying to enter the country illegally, but CBP said face scanning can help catch people trying to flee the country.

At Orlando International Airport, the technology is already being used for all international departures.

At Sea-Tac, it's only in place at one gate and just for Lufthansa flights.

KIRO 7 got to the gate Friday as CBP agents were dismantling the face scanners and locking them up for the night.

After passengers check in for a flight, the airline tells CBP who is getting on. The passport or visa photos of all of the passengers on the plane, which are already in a database, are then pulled into a gallery.

When your face is scanned, that picture is compared to what's already in the system, to verify your identity.

“Any concerns with that at all?” this reporter asked a traveler.

“No, not at all. because I feel more secure. They have my face. They can check everything, what they want, because it protects me,” said Mighaal Gartner, who was flying to Munich.

Other travelers said they know the measure will raise concerns.

“As with new technology, everybody is going to question it at first,” said Jade Frank, a Seattle resident on his way to Munich. “They're a little upset: 'Where's my image going?'”

CBP said it has secure encryption and storage. A sign at the gate said that photos of U.S. Citizens will be deleted after 14 days.

Travelers said the face scanners add convenience and mean there is one less document they have to pull out before getting on the plane

“Fumbling through, trying to find it, where’d you put it,” Frank said. “Anything to save time at the airport is good,” Frank said.

The face scanners could be coming to other gates at Sea-Tac and to more airports. Customs and Border Protection said it will evaluate the data when the program is over and then decide how to move forward.