SFO to try new high-tech security scanners

Expanded customs and border protection requirements, including new 10-fingerprint scanners that will be used on foreign visitors, are coming to San Francisco International Airport this year — and facial and retinal scans may not be far off.

SFO is one of 10 airports selected for the test program nationwide, under a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program aimed at increasing border security.

Speaking to officials in Brussels on Monday, P.T. Wright, the operations director for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program, said higher-quality 10-fingerprint scanners — upgraded from scanners that only tested two fingers — will affect travelers from any country where visas are required, as well as some others, according to the DHS.

Wright said data would be collected on visitors under strict U.S. privacy protection rules, but he added that the prints are checked against U.S. security watch lists and that the FBI and the CIA also have access to the prints.

The 10-print scans would be “virtually 100 percent match-accurate,” Wright said.

“We are going to know that that’s you,” Wright said. Adding other biometric identifiers — such as facial or retinal scans — could help better rule out fraud, he said.

Federal officials continue discussions with European nations on the issue, many of which have been opposed to more stringent U.S. travel security demands.

SFO Duty Manager Linda Perry said the first run of US-VISIT trials, which only included a two-finger scan and facial photographs, have been taking place at SFO for nearly two years. As far as she knew, the system had been running smoothly and did not create any disruption to airport operations.

“Over the course of the trial, I had not heard of any problems it caused at customs,” Perry said.

The new technology comes on the heels of the Open Skies Agreement, a recently negotiated treaty between the U.S. and European Union, which makes it easier for European-based airlines to fly to and create hubs on this side of the Atlantic.

The agreement has already spelled good news for SFO, which will see Irish airline Aer Lingus start operating flights to Dublin this year. Qatar Airways officials have said SFO has made the short list for choice American destinations. Meanwhile, airport officials continue negotiations with other European carriers in an attempt to beef up service to the continent.

Airports chosen for test program

» San Francisco International

» Logan International (Boston)

» O’Hare International (Chicago)

» George Bush Intercontinental (Houston)

» Detroit Metro

» Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International

» Miami International

» JFK International (New York)

» Orlando International

» Washington Dulles International

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

tramroop@examiner.com

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