from the please-hold-your-applause...-forever dept
Customs and Border Protection continues to protect our borders against… stuff. Much like the TSA struggles to catch any terrorists (or, indeed, any items actual terrorists might use) but still issues press releases crowing about the agency’s ability to identify and seize novelty items and the occasional gun someone decided not to check, the CBP is more than happy to point out how a system that relies on millions of facial images collected at ports of entry every so often stops someone from entering the country.
As of the end of 2020, CBP’s biometric systems installed all over the country had gathered 50 million facial images. This was all done in service of identifying fewer than 300 “imposters.” CBP claimed this ratio was a sign of its effectiveness — that being able to identify 292 imposters who were previously denied entry to the United States was acceptable ROI for millions of dollars of biometric collection/comparison equipment and new impositions on people who cross the borders hundreds of times a year for legitimate reasons.
2021 is wrapping up and we haven’t heard much about the CBP’s imposter identification program. Until now. If the goal is national security, this release by the CBP isn’t any more reassuring than the previous report of ~300 imposters caught at borders — none of which appear to have been terrorists or members of dangerous criminal cartels. The former group appears to have been mostly composed of people who’ve already been rejected once at the border for whatever reason.
This latter group of one was rejected for a more timely(?) reason: a lack of proper antibodies.
U.S. border officials are crediting facial-recognition technology with stopping an impostor from entering their country through the Pacific Highway border in South Surrey.
According to a news release issued Friday (Dec. 3), officers using ‘Simplified Arrival’ – a touchless arrival process which compares facial biometrics on documents required for entry into the U.S. – identified a “facial mismatch” while processing a female bus passenger on Nov. 26.
The woman admitted to using her sister’s U.S. passport and COVID-19 vaccination card, “because she had not been vaccinated,” the release states.
Truly amazing stuff. No doubt this will whip up the anti-vax crowd and cause them to decry this as fascism. This will happen while they ignore the years of fascist-adjacent border activity, including the wholesale disappearance of everyone’s rights within 100 miles of the border and inland “border” checkpoints that subject people who aren’t even crossing borders to the unfriendly advances of Customs officials.
This underwhelming win for an expensive and intrusive biometric system is, of course, being touted as a justification for said system.
“The addition of facial biometric technology and the vigilance of our CBP officers prevented the entry of someone suspected of fraudulently using another individual’s passport and COVID-19 vaccination card to cross international borders,” Brian J. Humphrey, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Seattle director of field operations, said in the release.
Wow. I hope there’s still some room on the chests of these fine heroes, given all they do for this nation. Who knows what sort of havoc an unvaccinated Canadian could have wreaked in the Seattle metro area? It’s not that COVID isn’t contagious or deadly, it’s that this isn’t how we expect systems that diminish our rights to be used. This isn’t the tradeoff we never even had the chance to agree on.
The most generous reading of the American public’s acceptance of post-9/11 processes and procedures is that ever-expanding surveillance efforts and impositions on travelers would be focused on national security threats. But not much of it is. Lots of activity at ports of entry is focused on finding cash the government can seize. The rest of it appears to be petty harassment in search of a justification. Even if this “catch” is incidental to the CBP’s more important work, the last thing the agency should do is announce it like it some sort of vindication of the federal government’s unquenchable thirst for biometric data.