DHS Goes Biometric, Says Travelers Can Opt Out Of Face Scans By Not Traveling

from the driving:-dangerous-and-unpatriotic dept

The DHS has decided air travel is the unsafest thing of all. In the wake of multiple fear mongering presidential directives — including a travel ban currently being contested in federal courts — the DHS has introduced several measures meant to make flying safer, but in reality would only make flying more of a pain in the ass.

The government has argued in court that flying is a privilege, not a right, and the DHS seems hellbent on making fliers pay for every bit of that privilege. We’ve seen laptop bans introduced as a stick to push foreign airports to engage in more security theater and a threat to rifle through all travelers’ books and papers to ensure nobody’s reading explosive devices.

Now, the DHS is going to be scanning everyone’s faces as they board/disembark international flights.

The Department of Homeland Security says it’s the only way to successfully expand a program that tracks nonimmigrant foreigners. They have been required by law since 2004 to submit to biometric identity scans — but to date have only had their fingerprints and photos collected prior to entry.

Now, DHS says it’s finally ready to implement face scans on departure — aimed mainly at better tracking visa overstays but also at tightening security.

The DHS swears it won’t be retaining face scans of US persons, but apparently never considered limiting the collection to foreign travelers. Instead, the DHS will “collect them all” and supposedly toss out US citizens’ scans later.

John Wagner, the Customs deputy executive assistant commissioner in charge of the program, confirmed in an interview that U.S. citizens departing on international flights will submit to face scans.

Wagner says the agency has no plans to retain the biometric data of U.S. citizens and will delete all scans of them within 14 days.

This sounds good (other than the collect-them-all approach) but Wagner’s not done talking. The DHS is obviously hoping to make use of US persons’ scans at some point.

However, [Wagner] doesn’t rule out CBP keeping them in the future after going “through the appropriate privacy reviews and approvals.”

This makes the promise of a 14-day deletion period dubious. The DHS would seemingly prefer to keep everything it collects, so this deletion promise may morph into data segregation, with the government keeping domestic scans in their own silo for possible use later.

The program is already being deployed at a handful of major airports. During the trial run, passengers will be able to opt out of the collection. But the DHS’s own Privacy Impact Assessment [PDF] makes it clear it won’t be optional for long.

Privacy Risk: There is a risk to individual participation because individuals may be denied boarding if they refuse to submit to biometric identity verification under the TVS.

Mitigation: This privacy risk is partially mitigated. Although the redress and access procedures above provide for an individual’s ability to correct his or her information, 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. [emphasis added] Individuals seeking to travel internationally are subject to the laws and rules enforced by CBP and are subject to inspection.

To opt-out is to not travel. Considering this affects international flights, the DHS has a very good chance of achieving 100% compliance.

But there are other percentages to be concerned about, like accuracy. The DHS has a 96% accuracy requirement for face scanning tech (but, oddly, not for its TSA employees…), but its Privacy Impact Awareness report doesn’t actually say whether vendors have been able to hit that mark. In practical terms, what’s being deployed could still be well under that percentage. Considering the number of things that need to go right to obtain a useful face scan, the error rate could be far above 4% once less-than-ideal capture conditions are factored in.

Whatever privacy assurances are being given now, expect them to be whittled down in the future, especially if the government continues to engage in reactionary, fear-based lawmaking. With the exception of some post-Snowden surveillance reforms, the government’s desire to collect databases full of US persons’ info has only steadily increased since September 11, 2001.

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Comments on “DHS Goes Biometric, Says Travelers Can Opt Out Of Face Scans By Not Traveling”

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82 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Worked with names, why not faces?

Because the no-fly list of names has been such a smashing success of course they want to roll out a facial scanning program as well.

As I’ve said before, for those that live in other countries: unless you absolutely must physically come to the US for business purposes, and cannot achieve what you need to accomplish digitally, do not come to the US. Unless you like being treated as a suspected criminal spend your money and attention elsewhere, for your own safety and security.

This makes the promise of a 14-day deletion period dubious. The DHS would seemingly prefer to keep everything it collects, so this deletion promise may morph into data segregation, with the government keeping domestic scans in their own silo for possible use later.

‘Dubious’ is certainly one way to put it, though I’d lean more towards ‘Not even remotely believable for so much as a second’, as I suspect that the second sentence is likely to be the case, where they might delete a copy, but only after they make one or more copies to be stored elsewhere. Why go through all the hassle of creating new records when/if they can managed to twist the law into allowing them to keep data of US persons when they can just use the same data they originally gathered?

Whatever privacy assurances are being given now, expect them to be whittled down in the future, especially if the government continues to engage in reactionary, fear-based lawmaking.

Yeah, going to have to disagree here. The justification give may be based upon fear-mongering of the public, but I rather doubt that the actions being undertaken are at all ‘reactionary’ and/or ‘fear-based’ on the part of those engaged in them. They know what they’re doing, the only question at this point is ‘why?’, with no good answers that I can see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worked with names, why not faces?

but I rather doubt that the actions being undertaken are at all ‘reactionary’ and/or ‘fear-based’ on the part of those engaged in them.

Oh but they are fear based, they fear that the grant of their power and privilege is optional and a popular movement could form and through them out of power.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Worked with names, why not faces?

Your doubts and suspicions are well founded:

http://www.businessinsider.com/nsa-facial-recognition-2014-5?IR=T

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facial_Images_National_Database

The UK’s FINDS is NOT under review as is suggested, it is active, as is their DNA database. Germany has a bill going forward with national facial recognition undermining their strong Data Protection laws. France has been trying similar systems since the mid-noughties with varied success. Other European countries are attempting similar programs.

So it seems data protection be damned. For anyone interested in this topic is the very expensive (but very thorough):

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=EvbHBAAAQBAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=Privacy+and+Data+Protection+Issues+of+Biometric+Applications:+A+Comparative+…+By+Els+J.+Kindt&source=bl&ots=YGu-3v6UPL&sig=ZtAtje_kK64yNtJ0TL_JgGXWBWg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjysuDB4IjVAhVlF8AKHWahDb8Q6AEITzAG#v=onepage&q=Privacy%20and%20Data%20Protection%20Issues%20of%20Biometric%20Applications%3A%20A%20Comparative%20…%20By%20Els%20J.%20Kindt&f=false

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Rights are rarely destroyed in a single go

And what exactly have we gained by the drastic increase in ‘security’?

Increased wait times.

Intrusive searches of luggage and bodies that fail spectacularly to find dangerous items(valuable items on the other hand…)

People treated terribly or even forbidden from flying at all simply because they happen to have the ‘wrong’ name.

People detained for hours for no good reason.

All of this for… what again? Yes, it is a ‘big deal’, because it’s yet more ratcheting up of the spectacle that is ‘Security Theater’, where privacy and rights take yet another ding for no real benefit to the public, and it will be followed by another ‘minor security update’, and another ‘new rules for boarding’, and another ‘change in scanning procedures’…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Is this really a big deal?

Welkome to Amerika Komrad!

If you cannot be bothered to fight against the smallest threat to liberty, then it is doubtful that you will be or can be useful in the fight against the largest threats to liberty.

All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for “good men” to do nothing.

I put good men in quotes because… well you are NOT good if you are doing nothing, are you are either a coward or just your standard worthless human.

Add to humanity instead, do not take away from it through inaction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Workaround

To opt-out is to not travel.

Not quite. First of all, domestic travel is still travel. And it’s not clear that the government could stop a citizen from leaving the country or require them to submit to this; so leaving via something other than an international flight could work. Exit the USA via boat, car, or walking (possibly after a domestic flight—until they extend this program), then catch a flight from another country.

Stephen says:

Re: Workaround

Anonymous Coward: “…then catch a flight from another country.”

That only works if the other country isn’t also doing face scans. My guess is that it is only a matter of time before the US strong-arms other nations into keeping their own biometric collections, especially amongst allies like Canada.

There’s an old saying. When the US catches cold, the rest of the world gets pneumonia. The US is going to make it its business to close off all loopholes–including the one you have just suggested.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Name the enemy

Way to misunderstand – and then come up with a platitude.

When the government refused to name the enemy accurately in 2001 they effectively made everyone into an enemy – because when you don’t know who the enemy is then you have to treat everyone as a potential enemy. So yes – the US government is now your enemy so you are sort of right – but I doubt that you understand the logic – or have a clue how to fix it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Name the enemy

People here at TD do not subscribe to that.

When a politician is corrupt and gets voted back into office it is NOT the peoples fault. They are innocent little lambs just doing their best with the candidates they were “given”. You can’t blame them for not knowing how the government operates, or the secret laws that can get them labeled a terrorist, and how much money the can and cant put into a bank account before the IRS seizes it without a trial or conviction.

I mean, you would think a bunch of people that had the power to “elect” their representatives could give it out.

As you have clearly stated…

“We have met the enemy and it is us”

But we all disagree with that here at TD! We are innocent and without blame!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Name the enemy

Although your simplistic point of view is shared among many in the public, I find it lacking.

Corruption is not limited to politicians and seldom do you find a non corrupt politician on the ballot. Dear citizen, please select one of the following corrupt mofos – thank you for your service. Victim blaming is fun and exciting for the entire family, see how many victims you can blame today.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Name the enemy

Americans seem to have an annoying feeling for that pesky freedom of speech.

The enemy in 2001 was clearly the group that killed 2000+ people in New York etc on September 11, and the ideology that inspired them and has carried out 30,000+ fatal attacks since.

As the old saying goes – "Sticks and stones…"

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Name the enemy

And how many fatal attacks have Christians carried out since then? Answer: a lot more.

Answer actually close to zero.

My 30,000+ attacks are documented here:
https://www.thereligionofpeace.com/

and verifeid by the BBC and found to be an underestimate.

Remember these are all attacks carried out in the name of the religion explicitly.

I doubt that you can justify your statement with references.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Such a great country…
If I don’t want to give up my rights as a consumer, I can opt to not have AT&T & skip the internet or calling people.

If I don’t want to have my bio-metrics stored by the same people who can’t protect secret cyber tools, protect tax payer info, stop a terrorist plot they put into motion, I can just not fly.

This is just dumping tons of cash into yet another badly thought out idea that made it up the ranks because if we don’t someone might brand us as hating America.

Perhaps its time we point out that their actions are showing more and more that that do hate America, its freedoms, & laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Who do you think comprises our military? A bunch of dumb, redneck literates from red states, right?

You think all those guys would take up arms against citizens of this country? Some would, but as a former Marine, I can guarantee that some of them would join the other side and bring some of those planes, tanks and mortars.

Stephen says:

Face Scans of "US persons" not kept?--Yeah Right!

“The DHS swears it won’t be retaining face scans of US persons….”

It won’t need to keep them–as long as the Five Eyes also institute face scanning of air travellers and retain those of “US persons”. Which, naturally, they will then get to share around with the DHS.

trx302 (profile) says:

scans

That ship sailed a *long* time ago.

The comp.risks newsgroup followed the Feds rolling out their new facial recognition systems in assorted airports, bus stations, and Federal buildings back in the late 1980s.

On top of that, your face is recorded by who-knows-how-many security cameras at the airport, not all operated by the same organizations. The DHS thug matches your photo ID to your face before he takes an image of the ID.

There are *restaurants* that use facial recognition software. That waitress who remembered your special order from six months ago? That’s not because you were such a memorable customer.

“Welcome to the 21st century.”

Stephen says:

Re: scans

trx302: “On top of that, your face is recorded by who-knows-how-many security cameras at the airport, not all operated by the same organizations. The DHS thug matches your photo ID to your face before he takes an image of the ID.”

That is actually not so far-fetched. China is currently implementing a rolling out facial recognition on massive scale. It reportedly has over 170 million street cameras and intends to have another 450 million by 2020. For a glimpse into where it is all going, check out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq1SEqNT-7c

How long before the DHS starts suggesting America needs the same sort of system to help catch terrorists and other baddies?

Anonymous Coward says:

Technical flaws and all

So, how do they tell who are the foreigners and who are the Americans? You can’t just go by “looks foreign” using Machine Learning since the US is such a melting pot (maybe Sweden could do it).

What that means is they have to have a database of facial scans to compare the new scans against. Of course, you only have 300 million Americans versus ~7 billion other people on the planet so it is easier, simpler, more tractable to keep the smaller data set. This means the DHS must be keeping a database of all US citizens travelers’ face scans to compare against. Best guess is they use the picture you submit for your Passport since you need one before you can do international flights.

And I’m betting the “we throw away the scans of Americans” means they throw away the new ones after taking notes on who, what, where because they already have a good base scan.

I know, tinfoil country, but as a software developer, this stands out as possibly the only solution that works at scale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

How can you get citizens to agree to let you track them?
Just say you are looking for foreign enemy’s. One of the OLDEST tricks in the “how oppress your citizens, and them let you, ancient stone tablet guide”

You citizens have a good day, I need to go and put on my sheep costume, I have a press conference in a few minutes.

~Politician.

Anonymous Coward says:

It IS a right, not privilege.

The government has argued in court that flying is a privilege, not a right

They have also argued that the bill of rights don’t apply for the majority of Americans because they live within 100 miles of a border. Neither one is true, and the US govt is violating rights on a massive scale. If the government can’t or won’t control itself (through its own courts, hah!), then the alternatives are much more violent.

Personanongrata says:

How is the Water Frogs?

Whatever privacy assurances are being given now, expect them to be whittled down in the future, especially if the government continues to engage in reactionary, fear-based lawmaking.

Especially if the citizens of the once was republic continue to genuflect to US government diktats upon command.

Convenience and expedience are no reason to subject yourself to US government tyranny and relinquish your natural rights.

Cast off the repressive/criminal yoke of the US government.

Demand to be treated as a human being and citizen not US government chattel.

John Cressman (profile) says:

Not as worried

I’m really not as worried about this as some other things. I assume that if I’m leaving the country, they have my face for the passport anyway.

If it’s a domestic flight, I assume that my likeness is captured dozens, if not hundreds, of times through security cameras.

As far as not keeping faces of US citizens… yah… right. You mean, sort of like, them not keeping the conversations of US citizens in surveillance of foreign citizens. Because that NEVER happens… oh wait.

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Seems like a problem

Wagner says the agency has no plans to retain the biometric data of U.S. citizens and will delete all scans of them within 14 days.

So Mr. Wagner answer me this: who’s going to go through all those pictures and decide who is a US citizen and who isn’t? In 14 days?

Right. So it looks like you be keeping those bit longer, huh?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Seems like a problem

“Well clearly we’ll need to hire a good number of people to do this sorting, but would you look at that it looks like we don’t have the budget for that at the moment, so if the government wants us to be able to delete information on american citizens they’ll need to increase our budget.

Again.

Until that happens I guess it’ll just continue to add up, and we’ll get around to it eventually.”

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