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US Homeland Security proposes facial recognition scans of US citizens

The Department of Homeland Security logo hangs in San Diego during a news conference on October 26, 2017. (John Gibbins/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
December 04, 2019

The U.S. Homeland Security Department intends to propose regulations that would require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to be photographed when entering and exiting the country.

The regulations, which are set to officially be proposed sometime next year, has already sparked backlash from privacy advocates, saying that individuals should not have to subject themselves to biometric scans, Reuters reported.

“Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, on Monday.

The Trump administration insists that the face scan requirement could stop individuals from using fraudulent travel documents to illegally enter the country and aid in the identification of criminals or terrorists.

Major commercial airlines, along with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, which is a part of the Department of Defense, have tested facial recognition to confirm the identities of its passengers at airports around the country. Privacy advocates, including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have criticized the program.

Delta and American Airlines are using facial recognition at select terminals around the country and plan to expand their operations, as part of a plan to make airport transportation faster and more secure.

“There is no real oversight for how a private corporation can use our biometric information once they’ve collected it,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future, a member of a progressive coalition aiming to end the program “We’ve already seen high-profile data breaches where airport facial recognition databases were hacked and exposed.”

While the technology to instantly recognize anyone on camera remains a point of contention to advocacy groups, Delta claims that fewer than 2 percent of passengers opted out of using it when CBP tested facial recognition at other airports.

Additionally, similar to being a part of an automatic facial recognition program without an individual’s consent or a warrant, federal judge in Boston recently ruled checking travelers’ phones and electronics without a warrant at ports of entry into the United States was unconstitutional.

“This ruling significantly advances Fourth Amendment protections for the millions of international travelers who enter the United States every year,” said staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project Esha Bhandari. “By putting an end to the government’s ability to conduct suspicionless fishing expeditions, the court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don’t lose our privacy rights when we travel.”