By Aaron Kesel
The Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) branch has reversed a previous proposed plan to require all U.S. citizens to participate in its facial recognition entry/exit programs after backlash, Nextgov reported.
Earlier this week Reuters reported that the Trump administration intends to propose a regulation next year that would require all travelers – including U.S. citizens – to be photographed when entering or leaving the United States.
Since CBP’s facial recognition program started in September 2018, U.S. citizens and green card holders have technically been exempt from participating, although passengers have to actively opt out.
A notice posted to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ website showed the agency intended to change that policy, TechCrunch reported.
On Thursday, after backlash from Congress and privacy rights activist organizations, the agency stated it officially decided to walk back the proposed change.
“There are no current plans to require U.S. citizens to provide photographs upon entry and exit from the United States,” a CBP spokesperson said in a statement. “CBP intends to have the planned regulatory action regarding U.S. citizens removed from the unified agenda next time it is published.”
Currently, facial recognition tech is deployed in some capacity at 16 airports across the U.S.; and by 2021, CBP expects to scale up the program to cover more than 97 percent of passengers flying outside of the U.S, according to Nextgov.
Activist Post previously reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wanted to develop advanced facial recognition technology that scans the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the U.S. border checkpoints. Last year we saw those efforts have expanded to airports with numerous tests throughout the U.S.
Activist Post then followed up on that report showing 346 pages of documents obtained by the nonprofit research organization Electronic Privacy Information Center which showed that efforts are expanding even more with plans of implementing the technology in as many as 20 different top airports by 2021. It is a part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “biometric exit” agenda, which was originally signed into law under the Obama administration, BuzzFeed News reported.
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This is following a hidden directive within an executive mandate signed by U.S. president Donald Trump in his immigration order on January 27th of 2017 — best known for suspending visitors to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries. Also bundled in this directive, however, was an article expediting the biometric exit program.
The order further stated that there will be three progress reports to be made over the next year on the program. Trump’s executive order in March built on that by specifically limiting biometric scans at the border to “in-scope travelers,” or those who aren’t U.S. or Canadian citizens. However, that doesn’t account for the surveillance being used in airports across the U.S.
According to the EFF documents, the CBP’s stated goal here is to “identify any non-U.S. citizens subject to the exit requirements who may fraudulently present” travel documents. The agency said it had “no plans to biometrically record the departure of U.S. citizens.” But the CBP also said it “does not believe there is enough time to separate U.S. citizens from non-U.S. citizen visitors prior to boarding” … “therefore, facial images will be collected for U.S. citizens as part of this test so that CBP can verify the identity of a U.S. citizen boarding the air carrier.” CBP said that once a traveler is identified and confirmed as a U.S. citizen, their images are deleted.
In, 1996, Congress authorized automated tracking of foreign citizens as they enter and exit the U.S. In 2004, DHS began biometric screening of foreign citizens upon arrival.This is all sure to just enrage privacy advocates everywhere even more and spur protest against the new suggested Orwellian system. Privacy advocates have long opposed biometric screening of immigrants.
Already privacy advocates have sounded the alarm and argued that the implementation of the biometric scanners in airports and elsewhere would be a huge step towards a surveillance state, and they’re absolutely right.
“Homeland Security has never consulted the American public about whether Americans should be subject to face recognition,” said Harrison Rudolph, a law fellow at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, in a blog post.
“What’s even worse is there is good reason to think Homeland Security’s face recognition systems will be expanded,” including to TSA checkpoints before a flight, he said.
Privacy advocate groups, attorneys, and even recently Microsoft, which also markets its own facial recognition system, have all raised concerns over the technology, pointing to issues of consent, racial profiling, and the potential to use images gathered through facial recognition cameras as evidence of criminal guilt by law enforcement.
“We don’t want to live in a world where government bureaucrats can enter in your name into a database and get a record of where you’ve been and what your financial, political, sexual, and medical associations and activities are,” Jay Stanley, an attorney with ACLU, told BuzzFeed News about the use of facial recognition cameras in retail stores. “And we don’t want a world in which people are being stopped and hassled by authorities because they bear resemblance to some scary character.”
Congress has agreed several times in the past to extend face scans to foreign nationals leaving the US, but critics say that lawmakers never intended for Americans to also become subject to the measure.
“Congress has passed Biometric Exit bills at least nine times,” said Rudolph. “In each, it has been clear: This is a program meant for foreign nationals.”
Congress under the House Oversight Committee recently held a bipartisan discussion on the issue of regulating the use of facial recognition technology and biometric cameras.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, “there are virtually no controls …. Whatever walk of life you come from, you may be a part of this [surveillance] process.”
The committee’s top Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) also expressed “It’s time for a time out” on government use of the surveillance technology.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other federal agencies, making claims that the government is improperly withholding information on how it uses a facial recognition database on millions of Americans as Activist Post reported.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection considers its jurisdiction to be anything within 100 miles of the border, so naturally one of the privacy questions for Americans is whether this tech would be deployed inside the United States.
In 2017, Homeland Security clarified their position on domestic spying stating Americans who don’t want faces scanned leaving the country “shouldn’t travel.”
“The only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling,” the DHS wrote in a document.
Earlier this year, legislators called for putting a “time out” on facial recognition technology until regulations are in place. So far, Congress has held two oversight hearings on the topic and there are at least four bills in the works to limit the technology.
On top of that, some cities in the U.S. have outright banned the biometric technology like San Francisco, Somerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, as Activist Post reported.
The whole state of California just last month followed the city of Oakland and passed a law barring law enforcement from using facial recognition cameras for three years, although most privacy rights activists think this should likely be indefinite.
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the roll out. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces all over the world are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
The FBI recently claimed to Congress agents don’t need to demonstrate probable cause of criminal activity before using its face surveillance technology on us. That statement says volumes on why facial recognition technology should be outright banned. We don’t want to create a facial recognition database and live in a world worse than George Orwell’s 1984 or The Minority Report.
Activist Post has consistently warned readers against facial recognition being abused and turned on American citizens by the DHS; and while the effort has been delayed and rescinded this time, the future may be different if we don’t stop fighting for our privacy rights against facial recognition technology.
Fight For The Future, an activism organization against facial recognition technology, has previously launched a first-of-its-kind interactive map that tracks where in the U.S. facial recognition technology is being used and where it is being resisted, along with a tool-kit for local activists who want to help kickstart a ban in their city or state, as Activist Post reported.
Image credit: The Tenth Amendment Center