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US Customs set to launch biometric pilot programs: leaked documents

The US Customs and Border Protection’s recently released facial recognition pilot program is the first of three biometrics programs that the agency is set to launch and deploy at the Mexican border, according to a report by Motherboard.

The three experimental programs, which feature iris and face scanner kiosks, as well as facial recognition software, are part of a broader CBP initiative called Apex Air Entry and Exit Re-Engineering (AEER) Project.

The program is designed to update screening processes at American entry and exit ports, including at the Mexican border, with the help of new biometric technologies.

The findings are based on slides leaked by Arjun Sethi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel, who attended a presentation held on March 10 at the CBP headquarters.

According to the leaked slides, these pilot programs are working toward “identifying and implementing” biometric technologies that can be deployed at U.S. borders to ultimately improve the immigration system and US national security.

The facial recognition pilot is currently operating at Washington Dulles International airport, while the remaining two programs have yet to be deployed. The facial recognition pilot is targeting both domestic and international travelers, while the other two pilots are singling out foreigners.

The second pilot, dubbed Biometric Exit (BE) Mobile Experiment, is designed to help CBP “confirm with certainty that a foreigner traveler has departed the United States.”

As part of the pilot, CBP officers at the Atlanta Hartsfield International airport will use a “handheld device”, which is likely a fingerprint reader, to record the exit of a foreign national from the US and compare it to the person’s entry records in order to determine whether the individual has stayed in the US for longer than the allotted duration.

The third pilot, Pedestrian Biometric Experiment, will be deployed at the Otay Mesa border between the United States and Mexico.

The pilot is designed to test “the viability of facial and iris image capture” in a land border, as well as generate “an additional layer of security” at the US southern border to “combat national security and public safety threats.”

The CBP will install devices that will scan an individual’s face and iris, to replace traditional entry kiosks, as well as other technologies, such as RFID document readers, iris biometric scanners, and facial biometric cameras.

While all three pilot programs are in experimental phases, there has been a growing concern by privacy advocates that the deployment of these technologies could soon be expand on a broader level.

Additionally, the third program is likely to be fully implemented as political pressure to secure the border with Mexico continues to increase.

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