In 2016, President Obama signed legislation sanctioning the installation of biometric scanners at America’s borders. In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order mandating the use of facial recognition scanners in the U.S.’s 20 busiest airports by 2021. Recently, BuzzFeed reported United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is rushing to get airport face scanners up and running by year’s end.
The government launched its biometric scanning initiative to stop possible criminals and terrorists from entering the country. The CPB’s facial recognition scanners match foreign nationals with their travel documents. Conversely, the system discards U.S. citizens biometric data after their identities are confirmed.
The agency has deployed face scanners at seven major U.S. airports, including ones in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York. The government wants to expand its program so it can scan up to 30 international flights a day by the end of 2019. Notably, the CPB’s new biometric scanners have produced tangible results.
The security organization reported its program identified five people carrying falsified visas as they were entering America. Similarly, the agency’s facial recognition tech has caught 64 imposters attempting to cross the United States’ land border with other people’s documents. However, despite the program’s success, privacy advocates are warning that its implementation could lead to serious problems in the future.
The Dangers of Digital Borders
The border facial recognition system starts by scanning a traveler’s face. The agency’s application then compares the traveler’s biometric data to State Department records. After that, the program retains citizen data for 12 hours. It holds onto departing noncitizen data for 14 days and arriving noncitizen biometrics for 75 years.
Representatives from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) contend that by rolling out its face scanning technology without public input, the agency has overstepped its authority. The group is also concerned about how the CPB’s application could be utilized in the future
“It means the government, without consulting the public, a requirement by Congress, or consent from any individual, is using facial recognition to create a digital ID of millions of Americans,” said Jeramie Scott, director of EPIC’s Domestic Surveillance Project.
Is China’s Present America’s Future?
If the government transformed the CPB’s face-scanning system into a domestic surveillance program, we know what it will look like.
For years now, the Chinese government has used facial recognition technology to monitor its populace. The nation has already deployed cutting-edge gait recognition technology to “maintain social stability.” The communist country also utilized biometric tech to develop its ominous social ranking program. Last year, that program blocked millions of “discredited” people from buying train tickets.
Though unlikely, it’s not inconceivable that the U.S. government could use the CPB’s facial recognition system to similar ends. After all, the Los Angeles Police Department already uses a deep learning solution to maintain lists of potential criminal offenders. If the government combines technologies, millions of Americans could have their travel options abruptly limited.
Currently, there are no federal laws restricting the use of facial recognition technology.