DHS Plans to Expand Facial Recognition Border Checks

facial recognition technology

Now all travelers to and from the U.S. – even if they are U.S. citizens – will be subject to facial recognition-based checks, a new filing revealed.

The Department of Homeland Security plans to extend facial recognition checks to all travelers entering and leaving the U.S. – including previously-exempt U.S. citizens.

The proposed ruling, outlined in a recent filing that was first reported this week by TechCrunch, signifies a rapid expansion of the DHS’ use of facial recognition checks at the U.S. border. Previously, the DHS facial recognition checks applied to only non-U.S. citizens traveling to and from the U.S. The checks would scan passenger faces and match them with photos that the government has on file.

“The Department of Homeland Security is required by statute to develop and implement a biometric entry-exit data system,” according to the DHS filing. “To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition and to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists, DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure.”

Facial recognition checks have been implemented at various airports through the “Biometric Exit” program, first introduced by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2015. As of April, the program was operational in 17 airports and the agency reportedly plans to expand that number to 20 by 2021.

The DHS did not respond to a request for comment from Threatpost asking whether this new ruling would apply to border checks beyond airports, including U.S. citizens driving in and out of the country.

However, an agency spokesperson told CNN that the ruling is in its “final stages of clearance” and but won’t go into effect until after a public comment period.

Traveler photos taken at the gate are compared with existing images that have been stored “in a secure environment” – including photographs taken during the entry inspection, photographs from U.S. passports and visas, and images “from previous DHS encounters,” a CBP official previously told Threatpost.

In June, the CBP said it processed more than 19 million travelers using facial recognition travelers, and had identified 100 “imposters” whose identities didn’t match their documents.

However, concerns remain about the privacy of facial recognition data collection, and the security of stored data –particularly after a June data breach of the CBP exposed photos of the faces and license plates for more than 100,000 travelers driving in and out of the country.

Other incidents, like the 2015 Office of Personnel Management data breach, which resulted in the theft of fingerprint data of 5.6 million, have put citizens on high alert against biometrics security.

The ACLU on Twitter hit back at the filing, saying that “Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive face recognition scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel.”

Facial recognition is already actively used by police forces and even at the White House. And it’s not just the U.S, the use of biometric identification by government agencies is spreading worldwide. The EU earlier this year approved a massive biometrics database that combines data from law enforcement, border patrol and more for both EU and non-EU citizens.

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