Along its beautiful 34 miles of waterfront, The Port of San Diego means serious business – championing maritime commerce, waterfront development, the environment and more.
As a whole, the Port of San Diego annually adds more than $9 billion to San Diego County’s economy and employs nearly 1 in 30 workers in the region – about 65,000 jobs. It’s the state’s fourth largest port, with two cargo terminals and two cruise terminals.
The Port’s cargo terminals are also one of the only 18 commercial “strategic ports,” designated to support cargo and vessel operations for the U.S. military’s transportation command and military sealift command. It is also a principal home port of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
From cargo and cruise terminals to hotels and restaurants, from marinas to museums, the Port and about 800 businesses on and around San Diego Bay also reinvest billions of dollars into the local economy each year, making it a major economic driver in the region.
With so much invested, local, national and federal agencies continue to step up Port protection through a variety of means.
“Our Port along with our Port tenants have worked with the Coast Guard, FBI and the Cyber Center of Excellence educating ourselves on cybersecurity via special workshops,” said Sharon Bernie-Cloward, president of San Diego Working Waterfront.
Most recently, through a partnership with the Princess Cruise line – which offers trips from San Diego to Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, Central America and the Pacific coast – United States Customs and Border Protection announced that it is expanding the use of facial biometrics into the debarkation process at the Port of San Diego.
This endeavor makes San Diego the latest seaport to modernize efforts that are revolutionizing cruise travel through facial recognition.
A facial recognition system uses technology to match a human face from a digital image against a database of faces, authenticating people through identification verification services. It works by pinpointing and measuring facial features.
Biometric comparison technology is currently available at 16 seaports across the U.S. and has been successfully used to process arriving passengers on cruise vessels in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, California, Washington, Louisiana, Alabama, Puerto Rico and Maryland.
CBP screens international travelers and cargo and searches for illicit narcotics, unreported currency, weapons, counterfeit consumer goods, prohibited agriculture, invasive weeds and pests, and other illicit products of potential harm to the nation’s safety and economic vitality.
CBP: Cruising a ‘Vital Sector of the U.S. Travel Economy’
“As cruise travel resumes around our nation’s ports, it is increasingly important to implement this technology and safely restart cruising, a vital
sector of the U.S. travel economy,” said Jennifer De La O, U.S. Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in San Diego. “With the biometric facial comparison process, travelers have the benefit of secure, touchless and streamlined entry procedures into the United States while CBP protects the privacy of all travelers.”
Explaining how it will work, the CBP said that when debarking the cruise vessel at a U.S. seaport, passengers will pause for a photo that will be compared to the traveler’s existing passport or visa photo in secure Department of Homeland Security systems to biometrically verify their identities. Once verified, passengers are allowed to proceed through inspections and exit the terminal.
The innovative entry process further secures and enhances the customer experience while protecting the privacy of all travelers – the improved arrival process using facial biometrics verifies the traveler’s identity within two seconds and is more than 98% accurate, CBP reports.
Currently, more than 240 million travelers have participated in the biometric facial comparison process at air, land and seaports of entry.
San Diego Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos, a 10-year board member, recalled when the Port was the victim of a ransomware cyberattack in late 2018. The event affected the Port’s IT systems in its administrative functions for park permits, public records requests and business services. Castellanos said Port officials were in the middle of upgrading its cybersecurity systems when the attack occurred, otherwise the attack could have been much more damaging.
“The Port hasn’t started to address biometrics in a meaningful way,” Castellanos said. “But we’re looking at it. I can say (that we) are aware of the various interests and considerations that go into deploying that type of technology.”
As of November 2022, in a press release CBP officials said it had leveraged facial biometrics “to prevent more than 1,600 impostors using genuine travel documents from illegally entering the U.S. at air and land Ports of Entry.”
U.S. travelers and select foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics and want to opt out of the biometric process can request a manual document check from a CBP officer consistent with existing requirements for admission into the U.S.