Advocacy groups warn Democrats’ proposal would increase border biometrics

Facial recognition, DNA collection, and other biometric systems are not needed at the U.S. Southern border and should be opposed by members of the House of Representatives, a coalition of advocacy groups write in a letter being delivered to house reps, Democratic party leadership, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Washington Post reports.

Groups including Fight For the Future, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union wrote the letter in response to House Democrats’ proposal for “Smart, Effective Border Security.” The proposal calls for “cutting edge technology” among several expansions of Customs and Border Protection capabilities, as the different branches of government negotiate over immigration and border security to prevent another government shutdown, which could occur within two weeks.

The groups say that the proposals would lead to the deployment of facial recognition at the border, along with automatic license plate readers, “predictive policing,” drone surveillance, collection of immigrant’s DNA, and other biometric screening processes. If carried out, the changes could aggravate racial inequalities in enforcement, violate privacy and data rights, and curb First Amendment freedoms.

The Department of Homeland Security is planning tests of facial recognition and other technologies at land border crossings, and facial recognition has been deployed to a growing number of airports for CBP’s Biometric Exit program.

“When we talk about expanding a surveillance wall with the intent to target immigrants and foreigners, that’s bad not just because immigrants and foreign visitors have human rights, but it’s also a problem because these surveillance technologies will be and already have been deployed against Americans, too,” said Adam Schwartz, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The prospect of the U.S. government building a surveillance wall that vacuums up the private information of immigrants and travelers and U.S. citizens alike is a menace to privacy.”

Democrats have suggested that a “smart wall” or enhanced border control technology is a more appropriate way to deal with problems along the U.S. border with Mexico than a physical wall, as demanded by the White House.

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