According to this recent NBC story, New facial recognition tech catches first impostor at D.C. airport, a man arriving on a flight to the US presented a passport to the customs officer, but using the new facial comparison biometric system, the officer determined the traveler did not match the passport he presented.
The 26-year-old man arrived Wednesday on a flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and presented a French passport to the customs officer, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Using the new facial comparison biometric system, the officer determined the unidentified traveler did not match the passport he presented.
I am skeptical that the person presented in this story was really primarily caught by the facial comparison technology. If you are a European citizen arriving at the US border, you first have to hand over your passport to the custom officer, who scans it with the computer and then takes a picture of you and a fingerprint scan of both of your index fingers. After this, you briefly have to explain why you want to enter the US.
French (as well as most other European) passports have had for many years the fingerprints of the person digitally stored in a machine readable chip. According to this wikipedia article on biometric passports
To store biometric data on the contactless chip [...], it runs on an interface in accordance with the ISO/IEC 14443 international standard, amongst others. These standards intend interoperability between different countries and different manufacturers of passport books.
By this, by the pressure from the US on other countries, and by the concentration on a few service providers for security technology, I would discard that there are technical incompatibilities that render it impossible for the US authorities to use the fingerprint data on the passport.
Thus I'm very skeptical that the guy in the story was not caught primarily by the facial recognition software and not by the fingerprint scan (or simply by the security officer).
QUESTIONS: Do you have any information if the fingerprint data contained on EU passports is or is not compared to the actual fingerprints when entering the US? What would be the reasons for having such an infrastructure but not making use of it? Why would reading the fingerprints on the passport be less reliable than using only the photograph on the passport?