DHS considering expanding biometric data collection at US borders

September 13, 2016 - 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is developing a plan to ramp up the amount of biometric data it collects at US borders in order to more closely track foreign visitors, according to a report by The Christian Science Monitor.

The new plan seeks to implement more biometric scanners to collect fingerprints, facial images, and iris scans of travellers, raising concerns among privacy advocates that foreign visitors would be potentially subjected to digital fraud and unjustified surveillance.

The agency is hoping to implement the plan at US borders beginning in 2018 in order to prevent foreign travellers from leaving the country using another individual’s passport.

DHS officials say that by verifying their biometric data at border checkpoints, border authorities will be able to prevent foreign travellers from overstaying their visas in the US by sending other people from out of the country in their place.

The US government is currently implementing a number of measures to increase border security, monitor visitors, and prevent visitors with possible terrorist alliances from entering the country or staying here illegally.

In early 2016, the government introduced new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program for any foreign travellers who have recently visited Syria and Iraq.

The Customs and Border Protections (CBP) agency also proposed an initiative where it would be able to collect data about travellers’ social media accounts to screen for “possible nefarious activity.”

The DHS has been collecting biometrics in an entry and exit program since 2004, as part of its post-9/11 efforts to prevent future terrorist attacks.

“We truly believe that having biometrics on both exit and entry is going to be that next step in our transformative efforts to make the arrivals and departure processes the most efficient and secure it can be at the US border for both US citizens and our visitors,” said Kevin McAleenan, deputy commissioner of the CBP.

On June 20, DHS issued a public request for information (RFI) seeking ideas on how the government ought to expand its current biometric capabilities. The RFI said that collecting iris and fingerprint data, as well as the biographic information on a traveller’s passport will “ensure that a traveler could not depart as an imposter (i.e., use someone else’s travel documents/identity when departing) or have someone depart on his or her behalf (i.e., someone else uses the supposed traveler’s documents).”

The US government currently discards citizens’ biometric data after the verification is confirmed at the border checkpoint.

Meanwhile, the government stores the data — including biometrics — of all non-US citizens for 75 years after collection, McAleenan said.

This practice, along with recent high-profile data breaches, has raised the attention of many privacy advocacy organizations.

“There’s always the potential that certain groups of people could be targeted disproportionately by a government surveillance program,” said Jeramie Scott, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s domestic surveillance project.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.