DHS's New Airport Face-Scanning Program Is Expensive, Flawed, And Illegal

from the 3-out-of-3.-nice-job,-fellas. dept

We, the people, are going to shell out $1 billion for the DHS to scan our faces into possibly illegal biometric systems. Those are the conclusions reached by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. A close examination the face scanning system the DHS plans to shove in front of passengers of international flights shows it to be a waste of money with limited utility.

DHS’ biometric exit program… stands on shaky legal ground. Congress has repeatedly ordered the collection of biometrics from foreign nationals at the border, but has never clearly authorized the border collection of biometrics from American citizens using face recognition technology. Without explicit authorization, DHS should not be scanning the faces of Americans as they depart on international flights—but DHS is doing it anyway. DHS also is failing to comply with a federal law requiring it to conduct a rulemaking process to implement the airport face scanning program—a process that DHS has not even started.

But American citizens will be included, according to the DHS. Its response to US travelers’ wondering why they’re being treated like terrorism suspects is that they’re welcome to opt out of the collection. All they have to do is not fly. The DHS insists it’s only targeting foreign visitors, but the system will scan everyone. The agency also promises not to retain face scans of US citizens, but it’s highly doubtful it will keep that promise. The government has rolled out a variety of biometric collections, each one intermingled with existing law enforcement and terrorism databases. Collect it all and let the courts sort it out: that’s the government’s motto.

On top of the illegality and lack of proper deployment paperwork, there’s the fact the program really just doesn’t do anything useful. As the Center points out in its thorough report, there was originally a point to scanning incoming foreign visitors and comparing them to government databases: catching incoming criminals and members of terrorism watchlists. But there’s no solid rationale behind the push to scan faces of foreigners as they leave the country.

The DHS has a theory, but it’s not a good one.

DHS, for its part, has never studied whether there is a problem that necessitates a change in its approach to tracking travelers’ departures. DHS claims that the aim of the program is to detect visa overstay travel fraud and to improve DHS’ data on the departure of foreign nationals by “biometrically verifying” the exit records it already creates for those leaving the country.

Visa overstay travel fraud could—in theory—be a problem worth solving. Foreign nationals who wish to remain in the country undetected past the expiration of their visas could be arranging to have others leave the country in their place using fraudulent credentials. But DHS has only ever published limited and anecdotal evidence of this.

The DHS — despite rolling this out — still has no idea if it will do anything more than stock its database of human faces. Five years after being asked to demonstrate how biometric exit scans would be an improvement over the status quo, the DHS has yet to provide answers. In fact, it’s hasn’t even been able to deliver an estimate as to when its report answering these questions will be delivered.

This dovetails right into the DHS’s lackadaisical roll out of its biometric program. So far, the tech has only been installed in a few airports, but even in this limited trial run, the agency seems uninterested in ensuring the system’s accuracy. The DHS claims the program is doing great because it’s not returning a lot of false positives. But that’s the wrong metric if you’re hoping to catch people on the way out of the country.

DHS currently measures performance based on how often the system correctly accepts travelers who are using true credentials. But if the aim of this system is to detect and stop visa overstay travel fraud—as DHS suggests—it is critical and perhaps more important to assess how well it performs at correctly rejecting travelers who are using fraudulent credentials. Yet DHS is not measuring that.

The Center recommends DHS suspend the program indefinitely. It should not be put back into place until the DHS has clear legal authorization to do so and with all of the required privacy impact paperwork filed. It should spend some more time studying the tech to see if it can actually perform the job the DHS wants it to. The end goal for the tech — overstay travel fraud — seems like a spurious reason for expanded surveillance in US airports, especially when isn’t interested in limiting this biometric collection to foreign citizens only. But chances are none of these recommendations will be followed by the DHS — not while answering to a presidential administration that has done its best to portray most foreigners as inherent threats to the US way of life.

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Comments on “DHS's New Airport Face-Scanning Program Is Expensive, Flawed, And Illegal”

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55 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

They already scan the license plates of all cars crossing the border out of the United States, but that I got that taken care of. I just simply put one of these anti-camera license plate covers on my plates so that when I cross, my license plate number is invisible to the cameras, and I do not become a number in a computer somewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

> I just simply put one of these anti-camera license plate covers on my plates so that when I cross, my license plate number is invisible to the cameras, and I do not become a number in a computer somewhere.

Sir, we are going to need you to go to secondary inspection. Our cameras can’t make out your license plate so it’s obvious you have something to hide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

While such covers make break some state laws, hiding your plates from DHS/CBP cameras is not a federal offence. So if you can make it all the way on I-5 to the border, you are home free, as there is currently so DHS controls going southbound into Mexico.

Where the cameras are are where the K-rails are right at the border. This is what makes using I-5 the best way to into Mexico, if you want to hide your plates from DHS/CBP cameras and get away with it.

Of course, before going into Mexico, I take the plates out of the frames, and tape them up inside my windows, so that no Mexican cop that comes by with a screwdriver can get to my my plates, as they are locked inside my car.

Becuase of there the cameras are aimed, their DHS/CBP cameras will see is an empty license plate frame as I pass through by the K-rails right at the border itself.

Taping the plates up in my winodows does not violate either Mexican law, or US federal law, only state law where it may apply.

If you want to hide your plates from DHS/CBP cameras without beint stopped by CBP, going down I-5 is the best way, as CBP does not currently have any southbound controls going into Mexico on I-5.

Anonymous Coward says:

it gets worse

“they’re welcome to opt out of the collection. All they have to do is not fly.”

If only that were true!

The sad reality is that if you’re unfortunate enough to live in or near a US border city, road travel in those “Constitution-free” zones can involve much more invasive and draconian ‘security’ checks, by men in uniform who are much meaner, more ruthless (and potentially more deadly) than the TSA will ever be.

https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/the-best-little-checkpoint-in-texas/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: it gets worse

The ignorance is deep with you.

“Uh, aren’t those exceptions called “Amendments”?”

They are Amendments NOT exceptions. There really is a difference… like really really!

“That and: for the government, isn’t it the case that the government is allowed to do do nothing, unless there’s a law specifically authorizing it to do something? “

This entire sentence makes no logical sense.
The government has powers not privileges. This means they act with authority which works on a different logical principle than “allowed to”. Additionally the government is not required to do anything even if there is a law “authorizing” it to do something as you so put it.

“Y’know, the reverse of the case for people.”

Based on what context? Your premise is already flawed. People DO have rights as defined by some of these Amendments, and as the AC stated, there is no “exception” in the Constitution be it an Amendment or Article that states that the American government can suspend its Constitutional obligations to the under any circumstances! Even if you were on fucking pluto the American government is constitutionally required to obey the Constitution when dealing with its citizens.

Proximity to Border, Barking Dog, and probable cause are NOT constitutionally JUSTIFIED! The Constitution has been excessively corrupted and people are too stupid to even understand how.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 it gets worse

The government has no right to do anything, unless explicitly granted that right by some relevant authority (i.e., the Constitution).

The people have the right to do anything, unless explicitly denied that right by some relevant authority (which receives its power to so deny from a right granted to the government in the Constitution).

Or in other words: "the government is allowed to do nothing, unless there’s a law specifically authorizing it to do something", and "[this is] the reverse [of what is true] for [the] people".

Proximity to Border, Barking Dog, and probable cause are NOT constitutionally JUSTIFIED!

The first two I’ll allow (at least on the face of them, and probably all the way), assuming you’re talking about these things as being invalid justifications for searches – but the term "probable cause" in modern usage is based in the Constitution itself, or at least in one of the amendments thereto.

There’s disagreement about exactly what meaning the use of the term in the Constitution does have, because of unfortunate and (at least in modern terms) unclear phrasing, but the term itself is certainly in there.

Anonymous Coward says:

What a wonderful boon for terrorists

(and kidnappers, and extortionists, and blackmailers).

Given that the DHS hasn’t yet demonstrated that it can secure a fart, there’s zero reason to think it can secure this database either. It will be hacked the moment it goes live (if not before) and the data will be sold to anyone who can pay. So let’s have a round of applause for the DHS, once again spending enormous amounts of US taxpayer dollars to make US taxpayers less secure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Very true. The database backend will likely use software such as MySQL, which keeps no longs. So someone could access the database directly, avoiding the main user interface, and all logging.

The database backend is the most vulenerable part. Because it has to be exposed to the Inernet, so the programs that need it to run can access it, it also makes it vulnerable to hacking, where there are no user logs.

That is why, before going into Mexico, I will put one of these anti-camera license plate covers on, so the DHS cameras that scan every license number leaving the United States will not record my license plate, and it will not end up going in their database.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

I will put one of these anti-camera license plate covers on, so the DHS cameras that scan every license number leaving the United States will not record my license plate,

You do know that’s a fantasy, right?

If a human can read the plate, then so can a camera. They’re not using different laws of physics. If a human can’t read the plate, it’s illegal and you’ll be stopped so that it can be cleared and recorded.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

The covers prevent any cameras from seeing the plate from an angle. Human eyes can see it, but a camera cannot see from an angle, which is typically how cameras are set up.

Another way is take the plates out of its frame and tape it up on your window, which do when I go to Mexico to defend myself against one thing that Mexican cops do.

They go around with a screwdriver and remove the the plates of any car they think is illegally parked. By taping up in the the windows, and then locking the car when I am gone, they cannot get to the plates. More people are discovering this.

This will also foul up the Homeland Security’s camera system, as the cameras will not get a very good picture of a plate inside your window.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

If your eyes can see the plate from an angle, then so can a camera. It’s the same light. Nothing about a camera stops it from seeing at an angle. If your eyes can’t read the plate from an angle, then the cover is illegal. Good luck avoiding a ticket, let alone crossing the border.

Sure, you can rig a demo to con customers of your magic camera shield. Say, using polarized lenses. But chances are the border camera won’t have a polarized lens let alone have it aligned just the right way for the trick to work in real life.

Mythbusters put some of the claims to the test.

People have tried to camouflage their license plates with hairspray, plastic wrap, specialized spray formulas and license plate covers, and none have held up to MythBusters testing. For instance, don’t buy the hype about specialized blockers that obscure license plates when viewed from the camera’s elevated vantage point. Regardless of height, speed cameras can still read that auto ID clear as day.

Same goes for commercial spray that supposedly reflects the camera’s flash back onto its lens, transforming the license plate area into a blank white rectangle. The speed camera still captures a clear image of the plate number.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

“If your eyes can see the plate from an angle, then so can a camera.”

Not necessarily.

One difference to consider is that the human eye has a far greater “exposure latitude” than practically any non-biological means to capture an image, and that fact alone could conceivably be exploited as a ‘copy protection’ method to thwart license plate readers.

Like all forms of anti-copy protection, these things work (or attempt to work) by exploiting the differences between the way that one “set of eyes” reads something and the way that a different “set of eyes” reads it. Not very different in principle from a “copy protected” audio CD that can be read (and played) by a standalone CD player yet is invisible to a computer’s CD-ROM drive.

But then, every type of copy protection method ever invented has eventually been defeated, in a never-ending arms race between content producers and consumers. And just like the arms race between police radar guns and radar detectors, it’s likely that anything that thwarts license plate readers will soon be defeated by newer and better plate readers.

And just like the many bogus products that claim to enable people to pass drug tests, there is often far more hype than actual science envolved.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Not very different in principle from a "copy protected" audio CD that can be read (and played) by a standalone CD player yet is invisible to a computer’s CD-ROM drive.

That relied on different behavior of audio CD and CD-ROM drives. Only the CD-ROM drives looked for a data track on the outer rim. (And this was defeated with a magic marker. You could also just un-check the auto-run feature in Windows, which should have been done anyway.)

An eye and a camera on the other hand will be seeing the same light.

it’s likely that anything that thwarts license plate readers will soon be defeated by newer and better plate readers.

As Mythbusters testing showed, the reflective sprays and whatnot were fully defeated over a decade ago. And that’s with the probably false assumption that they EVER worked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Another way to defeat this, which is not illegal, is to plug amother computer into line-in of another computer and re-record. As long as it is done for personal use only, it is not a crime under the DMCA, since you have to be doing it for monetary gain to be charged with the felony provisions of the law.

It is only a felony if you do it with intent to make some kind of monetary gain.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

This different than any of those. These are plastic covers you insert inside the frame. It has been designed so that that cameras, including traffic cameras, cannot get your license plate.

Some motorcylcists say “Loud pipes save lives”. I say loud car stereos save lives. Yet some places now have these automated enforcement systems to detect either a loud engine or a loud car stereo.

I have a loud stereo that is not as annoying, becuase I do nto have that thumpa-thumpa bass.

However, with cities deploying the “noise snare”, I can use one of these license plate frame covers to keep the cameras on the things from being able to get plate number, and keep me from getting a ticket in the mail.

I play my stereo loud for safety, to let people know I am there. It has avoided an accident on several occasions. It not just for my entertainment, its for my safety, too, I blast my stereo, and I have home-brew setup that can be pretty damn loud, but not have the thumpa-thumpa bass

This is what I am talking about

https://www.phantomplate.com/photoshield.html

It is an anti-camera plate cover that will work against all red-light, speed, and surveillance cameras.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

“Good luck avoiding a ticket, let alone crossing the border”

However, if I am, say, right close to the border, I will just simply not stop for any CHP officer, if I am aleady past the Camino De La Plaza Exit on I-5, I would just simply punch it and continue on towards the border. The CHP has jurisdiction in Mexico, and would have to break off the pursuit once I was across the border.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

So the CHP officer records your plate# and you’re arrested if you ever return from Mexico.

That’s aside from forwarding it to Mexican authorities. If needed. You know, because if you arrive at the border with a police pursuit, they’re going to stop you themselves and probably hand you back.

This happens occasionally here on the Canadian border. There’s even a protocol for border-crossing hot pursuits.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Or a unicorn could block it.

In Ontario alone there are 2900 convictions a year for obstructing plates. It doesn’t sound like they have any problem at all connecting obstructed plates to owners.

The obstructed plate you describe doesn’t stop you from being pulled over and asked for a viewing of your license and registration. Should you successfully make a run for the border, it’s simply a different police force stopping you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Technical point 1: MySQL and other databases log what they’re configured to log, as do whatever front-ends are used in combination with them.

Technical point 2: But the database logs don’t matter in the case of data transmission which never touches the database.

To explain: if I were a very underpaid, undertrained, undereducated DHS front line employee then I might well accept $10K/month in tax-free cash income in order to flag the photos of any woman traveling alone and landing in eastern European countries or other places amenable to kidnapping and human trafficking. I’d siphon the data off before it even GOT to the database and see that it arrives in the destination city before the flight. What happens next? Not my problem, as long as I get my payoff.

Given the high rates of corruption and criminality among DHS employees, I suspect that last paragraph is closer to history than to speculation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

MySQL has no logging. I know this becuase when I had my online radio station, and its associated website, I had a problem user who would not get the message he was not welcome on the site.

After I blocked all proxy access, he did manage to break into the database and access posts that way. I know this because he would re-post stuff elsewhere on the blog portion of the site. Becuase MySQL had no logging, I had no way to prove it was him. It was a case of I knew who it was, but could not prove it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

Maybe things have changed since them. The version I had and used from 2010 to 2016, until I had to shut my station and website down, did not have logging.

If MySQL has logging now, it would be a recent affectation.

This one dude did not like me, becuase I would do my own homebrew play-by-play of certain sporting events, particularly figure skating.

What I would do is tune to any stream of a skating event, and then give play by play reports of what was going on, which is protected by the first amendment as freedom of the press.

My broadcasts sounded so good, that this one dude really thought was in the arena, instead of in my home, and he was also with some kind of security detail, and they were looking all over arenas when I was not there, wanting to take care of the problem in their way, actually making physial threats of violence against me, if they could find me.

How I did is was I used one function that the 64-bit drivers for RealTek sound cards have. I could put it in Karaoke mode, which would cancel out the commentators voice, but leave the sounds in the arena in tact. Then I could my own commentary via the online radio station I had, only having to pay royalties for whatever music was used.

The 1st amendment protects homebrew play by play, which I did.

People liked me, especially in Europe, because I was not filtered out. I took steps to make I was never in any filtering lists. I blocked all the IP ranges of the major filtering vendors at the firewall level, so that my site would be never be cataloged or blocked.

While that would have broken British laws, because British laws on violating workplace internet policies are broader than in the USA, I was never subject to prosecution in Britain

Because my servers were in the United States, I only had to comply with United States laws. British laws did not apply to my servers, if even someone in Britain accessed my servers.

A server in the United States is only subject to American laws, and not British law.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

The version I had and used from 2010 to 2016, until I had to shut my station and website down, did not have logging.

According to the online manual, logging has been there since at least version 5.5, which was released in 2010.

https://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.5/en/server-logs.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MySQL#History

Wikipedia seems to indicate that logging was added in version 5.1, released in 2008. I hope you weren’t using 5.0, which was released in 2005.

Interesting story about the voiceover. The NFL’s overly broad copyright claims before every game are pretty annoying. Not sure if any other leagues are as bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What a wonderful boon for terrorists

If you have redundant servers, in different locations, you have to have the database exposed to the Internet so all your servers can access them.

When I had my online radio station, I had backup servers in two different locations, and the database had to be exposed to the Internet, so that any one of them could access if needed.

If you have backup servers in multiple locations, then the database has to be exposed to the Internet for everything to work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What a wonderful boon for terrorists

If you have backup servers in multiple locations, then the database has to be exposed to the Internet for everything to work.

No you do not, there are ways of connecting to remote services over a SSH tunnel, at least so long as you were using Linux servers. That means that remote backup servers etc. can be kept off of the general.

TheResidentSkeptic (profile) says:

None of that matters.

They are damn busy fighting wars – the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on people travelling, the war on people carrying cash, the war on people having intact homes, the war on people driving nice cars, the war on secured phones, the war on whistle-blowers, the war on “non-government-employees” … dammit – they have to do SOMETHING and that costs MONEY.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Flights to and from Alaska are probably considered “international.”

Here in Canada, flights to Toronto from western Canada or Halifax tend to pass briefly through American airspace. So they’re considered international flights on at least one level; passenger manifests must be turned over to the Americans well ahead of time and flights have been turned back if someone with a name they randomly don’t like is aboard.

You can be sure that the agreement goes both ways. That anyone flying between Alaska and the mainland US is having their information stored in two countries.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Many countries use an “in and out” system for their customs, requiring that you are tracked both coming and and leaving. It makes it easier to spot who didn’t leave.

“two part” immigration forms are very common, some places will scan your passport in and out of the country at the airport as a matter of standard operations.

Arguing that it’s pointless to track who is leaving is entirely missing how a good tourist / visitor visa system should work (not saying the US has a clue, just saying in general).

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The US has the virtual three-part form.

An American needs a passport or other special pass to enter Canada not because Canada requires it, but because America requires it for their citizen to return.

And the US has agreements with Canada and many other countries such that when an American flashes their passport to enter a third country, a record of this is sent to the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“An American needs a passport or other special pass to enter Canada not because Canada requires it, but because America requires it for their citizen to return.”

While it’s true that the US has always been much more uptight than Canada about people crossing the border, passports or visas or other travel permits were never required of US citizens or permanent residents (and unlike in Europe, most people have never had a passport). Unless things have recently changed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

There are some countries that will not let you renounce your citizenship, which is partly why USA allows dual citiezenhip.

Even though Ted Cruz renounced is Canadian citizenship, he is still considered a Cuban citizen, because his parents were born there.

Cuba considers anyone born abroad to a Cuban citizen to be a Cuba. Marco Rubio, despite being born in America, is considered by Cuba to be a Cuban citizen, becuase his parents were born there.

That law goes back to Batista’s time.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You have to be careful with this. I have three different valid passports, and you have to make sure that you use the same one “in and out” of a country or all sorts of bad things can happen.

There are also a few places that do not like you having multiple citizenship status. The US immigration service isn’t really happy about it in many cases, and they can (and do) demand that you make a single citizenship declaration for a visit to the US.

Some places don’t care, some places freak out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Dual citizenship, by ancestry, is allowed under US law. US citizens who hold dual citizenship by way ancestry, are allowed to have dual nationality. There are a growing number of America.

With CalExit, if that ever happens, I will instantly become a USA/California dual national, because my father was born in Montana, born in the Republic Of California to an American father will make me a USA/California dual national.

Of course some control freaks in the US Government will never let CalExit happen without a fight, becuase a number of tech companies will no longer to be subject to US laws.

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