DHS Continues Facial Recognition Deployment With An Eye On Expanding Program To All Domestic Travelers


The DHS is moving forward with the deployment of facial recognition tech at ports of entry, including US airports hosting international flights. The tech is still in its infancy, more prone to ringing up bogus hits than removing criminals and terrorists from circulation. But the DHS -- like many other government agencies -- isn't afraid to let a mere toddler do an adult's job. Faces will be scanned, whether travelers like it or not.

The DHS has issued an undated Privacy Impact Assessment [PDF] meant to unruffle the feathers of Americans it informed last year that not traveling internationally was the only way to opt out of this collection. The next phase of the facial rec tech deployment dials things back a bit, offering a bit more in the way of data collection/retention constraints.

In an effort to mitigate the impacts of this expanded collection, CBP seeks to minimize the data it maintains by purging facial images as quickly as possible after use. Each traveler’s biographic and biometric data is deleted from the TSA-issued device, either at the time of the next passenger’s transaction or after two minutes, whichever occurs first. All PII collected for the TVS transaction is stored in a secure database within the CBP network. CBP does not retain images of U.S. Citizens in ATS-UPAX but does retain images of non-U.S. Citizens for up to 14 days for confirmation of the match, as well as evaluation and audit purposes. CBP deletes all photos, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, from the TVS cloud matching service within 12 hours of the match.


TSA will only use these photos for identity verification at the checkpoint and cannot access the photos after the inspection is completed.

This is one of the better data retention policies the government has rolled out, especially considering it pertains to a border security program. But the DHS is far more vague -- and in some cases appears to be fudging the truth -- when it comes to details about data sharing. DHS claims this data won't be shared with airlines because the airlines have no interest in the data. As Edward Hasbrouck of Papers, Please points out, this statement runs contrary to the DHS's actions.

The joint government/industry interest and intent to develop and deploy a shared system of automated facial image tracking and control of travelers is made clear in white papers on government/industry biometric strategy and in the agendas for events at which CBP, TSA, and industry executives get together to discuss their plans.

Next month’s Future Travel Experience Global 2018 conference, for example, includes presentations by the planning and implementation directors for CBP’s “Biometric Exit” program, followed later the same day by a “working session” with CBP, airline, and airport executives on “Implementing advanced passenger processing with automation and biometrics”.

As for allowing American travelers to opt of the program, the DHS's stance has softened from its earlier "just don't travel" posture. Travelers can bypass face-scanning kiosks, but that just routes them towards CBP secondary inspection. All the CBP/DHS has to do to encourage more opting-in is make the non-scan option as laborious and invasive as possible. As has already been observed by Papers, Please, opting out sends American citizens to the same line as foreign international travelers, ensuring the wait for clearance is much longer than utilizing the facial rec option. Bottlenecks are good way of routing traffic where you want it to go, rather than where it would naturally flow.

The end goal isn't more surveillance of international travelers. The DHS ultimately wants to harvest faces from every domestic traveler in the US. It's not stated in the Impact Assessment, but there are already signs the agency has no interest in limiting this to those arriving from foreign countries.

Use of automated facial recognition is intended by the DHS to become a routine element of the surveillance and control of all air travelers, foreign and domestic. As the head of the CBP, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, said in a press release in June 2018, “We are at a critical turning point in the implementation of a biometric entry-exit system, and we’ve found a path forward that transforms travel for all travelers.” [emphasis in the original]

The best way to fight this is to opt out. It may subject travelers to longer waits at checkpoints, but it also forces CBP agents to process more people the old fashioned way, without the aid of the DHS's new tech. Annoying the government by refusing to be traffic-shaped by deliberate bottlenecks can be its own small victory, even if the War on Terror machinery continues to rack up loss after loss to terrorists.

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Filed Under: 4th amendment, dhs, domestic travelers, facial recognition, privacy, tsa

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  1. identicon
    John Smith, 5 Sep 2018 @ 3:35pm

    Re: Re:

    You're not surveilling. I said I had no problemwith surveillance, and that doesn't make me neutral on the issue, only that I couldn't care less about surveillance because I have nothing to hide or fear.

    If you want to try to get that info through legal means it would be poitless to stop you anyway.

    What's your stance on software that can identify speakersfrom their language pattens more accurately than from a fingerprint? It scans the internet for matches and can narrow most speech down to one ortwo candidates in an hour or less.

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