CBP discusses biometric exit program with various privacy groups

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security officials met with representatives from various privacy groups this week to discuss CBP’s biometric exit program, in the first of multiple engagements planned with the privacy rights community.

The meeting was intended to address concerns by privacy experts, who believe the use of facial recognition technology at U.S. airports may violate specific privacy rights and that Congress has not fully authorized it.

Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner (DEAC), Office of Field Operations, John Wagner reiterated the agency’s commitment to protecting the privacy rights of travelers as CBP moves forward with implementing a biometric exit system at U.S. ports of entry.

“CBP has and will continue to engage our privacy office at every step in the process to add biometric to the departure process from the United States,” said Wagner. “We are fully committed to meeting existing privacy laws and regulations while ensuring and safeguarding the privacy of all travelers.”

DHS Chief Privacy Officer Sam Kaplan and CBP Privacy Officer Debra Danisek also attended the meeting to engage with privacy stakeholders.

The agency is currently testing facial recognition exit technology at five U.S. airports, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport and McCarran International Airport.

Additionally, CBP is partnering with various airlines to integrate facial recognition technology as part of the boarding process at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport.

CBP has published two privacy impact assessments to inform the public on what procedures the agency will take to collect, use and maintain personally identifiable information in relation to these pilot programs.

In related news, a new House bill titled Border Security for America Act aims to implement eye or fingerprint scans for all travelers entering the United States, according to a report by GovTech.

Despite the plans, Rep. Chris Collins says there won’t be any border congestion in Western New York if the bill is passed because it exempts U.S. and Canadian citizens from biometric screening at border entry points.

Collins, who co-sponsored the bill, said the proposed mandate balances national security interests while supporting the region’s border-dependent economy.

The Border Security for America Act allocates $5 billion over a four-year period to increase border security staffing as well as enhance infrastructure.

Additionally, the act requests an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and 5,000 CBP officers, increasing border patrols and authorizing the deployment of National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The act also green-lights the construction of “tactical infrastructure and technology,” including President Trump’s polarizing border wall plan.

“Not later than Jan. 20, 2021, the Secretary of Homeland Security … shall deploy the most practical and effective tactical infrastructure available along the United States border for achieving situational awareness and operational control of the border,” the bill reads.

Collins said the proposed bill factors in the intrinsic security discrepancies between the country’s northern and southern borders.

“Our northern and southern borders face different needs when it comes to security,” Collins said. “(House Homeland Security Committee) Chairman (Michael) McCaul took the needs of Western New York into careful consideration when drafting this language and I thank him for his efforts.”

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