US Customs agents use facial recognition system at Orlando International Airport to speed up lines

International arrivals rose 214% over the last year

ORLANDO, Fla. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at Orlando International Airport are using facial recognition technology to help speed up screening lines that often stretch to 600 passengers deep.

“This is the first and last line of defense to this country,” agent Jonathan Agosto said.

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Agosto escorted News 6 deep inside the international arrivals area at the airport to show what agents do to ensure the people who traveled to Central Florida are allowed to enter the country.

According to its own numbers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have seen a 214% increase in the number of international passengers over the last year, due partially to relaxed COVID rules.

That translates to roughly 1.4 million more passengers.

Orlando International Airport2,097,643669,0841,220,407
Orlando Sanford International Airport15,5672,43427,093
Daytona Beach International Airport1,1701,1711,032
Melbourne Orlando International Airport108,5631,2651,152

As Agosto jumps behind a computer, he logs into a system called Simplified Arrival.

It was first introduced at Orlando International Airport as an experiment in 2018.

In June of this year, CBP completed its national rollout to all airports in the country.

As international passengers approach his window, a small camera takes a picture of their face, and computers then compare the image against ones that are stored on CBP’s database. It also compares the passenger’s name against the airline’s passenger lists.

The system boats a 98% accuracy rating.

The result is faster moving lines, according to Agosto, meaning visitors can begin their Orlando vacation more quickly.

But as one might expect, not all passengers are cleared.

International travelers wait to be screened at Orlando International Airport. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“There is a secondary processing area,” Agosto said. “When an officer cannot complete the inspection on primary review, or if there’s something that we need to dig a little bit further, this is where people are sent. The officer can do some other checks in the system—more in-depth checks—and that’s when the person can be processed completely.”

Since it was rolled out, Simplified Arrival has helped intercept nearly 1,500 imposters, who were using someone else’s travel documents to get into the U.S., News 6 discovered.

In Central Florida, records show the system has helped customs agents stop more than 7,900 people who were not eligible to enter the country.

“We’re just looking for legitimate travel,” Agosto said. “As long as their intent matches their story, and everything checks out, that’s what we’re looking for.”

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About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.