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
    bob, 5 Sep 2018 @ 4:41pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    From the movie Anon:

    "It's not that I have something to hide. I have nothing I want you to see."

    The government does use lawful means (warrants, etc.) to surveil people. But in this instance TSA and DHS are not seeking legal means because instead they have a blanket okay from congress to abuse 4th amendment rights because people became very scared after 9/11. And no matter what the patriot act, or whatever legal basis they use today, says, the government is not supposed to violate the constitutional rights all people in this country are entitled to.

    Now we obviously don't live in that ideal world where governments are incorruptible and always respect their citizens. That means people need to point out the problems when their government overreacts or does something illegal. The policy makers need to hold accountable those under them. And the citizens need to hold all members of the government accountible for their actions. Just because you have nothing to fear or hide now, doesn't give them the right to still invade your privacy or ignore your rights.

    In our current climate the various western governments have been routinely ignoring people's basic rights and it has been happening for far too long. Greed and power are what is motivating the expansion of DHS and TSA programs. Greed and Power are what drive a lot of things. But this doesn't mean we just let it continue.

    If you don't have a problem with illegal surveillance, or violations of basic human rights. If you don't have a problem that your own government looks at you not as a citizen but instead as a future criminal. Then you have already given up, and lost something precious. You just don't realize it yet.

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