Facial Verification at the Border

Date: June 4, 2021

Classification: Unclassified

Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes

Branch/Agency: TB/CBSA


CBC media story regarding the use by CBSA of facial technology at the border as announced in the Federal Budget 2021.

Proposed Response:  

If pressed on racial profiling:

In the pursuit of leveraging modern and effective technologies to facilitate border processing, the CBSA is committed to ensuring that individuals’ privacy is protected and that technology is free from bias.

If pressed on facial verification technology:

If pressed on why facial verification technology is needed at the border:


A Canadian technology legal think tank has called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition systems at our borders as well as a publicly transparent reassessment of existing systems in Canada. The report by the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic calls facial recognition a “significant intrusive potential that threatens anonymity, substantive equality, privacy and human rights more broadly.”

CBSA Current and Future Uses

The CBSA uses facial verification technology in the Primary Inspection Kiosks (PIK) at Canada’s largest 10 international air ports of entry, as well as in NEXUS kiosks/electronic gates at nine international airports.

The CBSA began implementing PIKs in 2017 in order to process increasing numbers of arriving travellers, as well as to address the public’s interest in increased self-service options.

The NEXUS program began a process of kiosk modernization in October 2019, building upon the PIK model and tailored specifically for NEXUS members. Over the course of a year, all iris biometric NEXUS kiosks were replaced with facial biometric kiosks or electronic gates. With PIK, the CBSA utilizes facial verification technology to support border processing activities on virtually all travellers arriving internationally, both returning Canadians and foreign nationals.

Facial verification is not used for travellers under 14 years of age or for travellers who present travel documents which do not contain an eChip (i.e. Canadian Permanent Resident card, passports of countries that have not migrated to newer electronic machine readable travel documents). In these cases, a Border Services Officer manually checks the traveller against the image displayed in the travel document. Since 2013, all new Canadian passports are issued with an eChip. Facial verification is not conducted when travellers are processed manually by an officer (e.g. when a traveller is not eligible or declines to use a PIK, or when travellers under the age of 16 travel unaccompanied by an adult).

Additionally, over the last few years, the CBSA has engaged in several applied research and development projects that have included evaluation of the readiness of facial verification technology for border operations. The evaluation has been done through the development of two laboratory-based prototypes and one time-limited pilot in an operational environment. Each project was sponsored and partially funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP). Most specifically, the Faces on the Move (FoTM) project was conducted between August 2014 and March 2017. The project was sponsored by the CSSP and managed by the CBSA. The Face4 Systems Inc. was the industry partner leading the facial recognition system deployment and performance assessment; the Adga Group lead the privacy impact assessment and the École de technologie supérieure (ETS) was the academic partner.

As part of Budget 2021, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will receive significant funding over the next five years to be spent in part on modernizing traveller processing, including exploring additional use of biometrics tools.

Facial Recognition versus Face Verification

Facial verification uses automated face systems to perform 1:1 verification (authentication) comparing an individual’s face to a registered face image to determine if the two faces are a match. This is typically used to verify the identity of an individual.

For example, at Primary Inspection Kiosks, facial verification technology involves comparing the traveller's photo taken at the kiosk with the photo stored on the traveller's ePassport chip (an image-to-image comparison) for identity confirmation purposes.

At NEXUS kiosks, CBSA compares the member's photo taken at the kiosk with the member's passport photo. With the member's consent, this photo is then kept in the member's file for future crossings. On subsequent crossings, the member will scan their NEXUS card and the NEXUS kiosk will compare the photo taken at the terminal with the photo in the member's file.  

Facial recognition is an automated biometric system for identification that employs a 1:N (many) search against a database of images to try to identify an individual. The automated system will compare the submitted image against a biometric database containing images of ‘known’ faces previously enrolled in the system, including in some cases watch list images. The search will result in the generation of a candidate list of images that meet the pre-established threshold for similarity. 


Prepared by: Alyssa Herage, Director of Traveller Policy and Program Management, 613-954-6319

Approved by: Denis Vinette, Vice President, Travellers Branch, 613-952-5269

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