DHS Wants To Develop Advanced Facial Recognition Technology For Use In Airports and Border Checkpoints

Aaron Kesel
The Activist Post (Archive)

In a move straight out of Minority Report, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to develop advanced facial recognition technology that scans the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the U.S. border on highways, NextGov reported.

The DHS has posted a public announcement calling on technology companies to submit proposals for the system by January 2018. The agency is hosting an “industry day” in Silicon Valley on November 14th to give businesses more information about what they’re looking for in the new surveillance facial recognition technology.

The proposed program would allow Homeland Security to maintain a database of everyone who leaves and enters the U.S. that would now include pictures taken by A.I. surveillance cameras at every border checkpoint. The program is designed to catch foreign nationals who have “overstayed their welcome” as well as help “identify potentially dangerous individuals.”

Ideally, that system would allow Customs and Border Protection agents to scan people’s faces, even if they’re wearing sunglasses, hats or are looking away from the camera, without requiring them to slow down or exit the vehicle.

The DHS explained:

Proposed solutions must capture face recognition quality photographs of a vehicle’s occupants without the travelers having to leave the vehicle and traveling at speed. The photo will be used to validate the identities of the occupants and document their entry or exit from the United States. The capability must be able to package and transmit the captured information in order to compare against DHS holdings to validate occupants’ identities and document entry/exit. In addition, the capability must be able to account for environmental (e.g., lighting, windshield tint, vehicle speed, and infrastructure), traffic (e.g., less trafficked ports may experience faster travelling vehicles which could increase the probability of motion blur), and occupant behavioral factors (e.g., sun glasses, hats, driver looking away or obstructing face view). CBP is interested in both standalone and multi-configuration integrated system approaches. All proposals should detail the requisite camera parameters and infrastructure requirements, and characterize the impact of technical and operational challenges (e.g., windshield contrast and transmission, occlusions, facial pose, and motion blur) on their proposed solution.

They further seek a solution that would know to anonymize the data if the camera happens to scan the face of a U.S. citizen exiting the country.

In addition, innovative approaches that allow for anonymization of U.S. citizen traveler data who are not ‘in-scope’ for biometric exit and privacy controls that limit the collection of such information should be documented clearly. Finally, the system must account for diversity in passenger demographics and socioeconomics (e.g., access to and use of mobile electronic devices).

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.

This is sure to enrage privacy advocates everywhere and spur protest against the new suggested Orwellian system. Privacy advocates have long opposed biometric screening of immigrants.

Earlier this year, 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.

Six major U.S. airports, including Boston, Atlanta, and New York’s Kennedy Airport, completed trials started under the previous Obama administration in airports with plans to roll out next year so now that biometric surveillance is expanding to border crossings.

Customs and Border Protection began testing facial recognition systems at Dulles Airport in 2015, then expanded tests to New York’s JFK Airport last year.

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.

Already privacy advocates have argued that the implementation of the biometric scanners in airports would be a huge step towards a surveillance state.

“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.

Congress has agreed several times to extend face scans on foreign nationals leaving the US, but critics say that lawmakers never intended for Americans to also become subject to the new 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.”

In August, EFF called for a public end to the biometric border screening program listing 6 reasons why to kill the technology identifying key problems.

The President’s executive immigration order on January 27th — best known for suspending visitors to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries — also included 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 specifically limitingbiometric scans at the border to “in-scope travelers” or those who aren’t U.S. or Canadian citizens.

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