U.S. Senators issue bi-partisan call for DHS to pause biometric entry-exit roll out

U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have called for the Department of Homeland Services (DHS) to pause its roll out of the Biometric Entry-Exit program since it admits it does not have enough time to filter out U.S. citizens from the process and airlines have not been limited in their use of traveler’s biometric data.

The Senators issued a joint statement in response to information revealed this week by BuzzFeed News in documents obtained from DHS and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The report suggests that DHS is rushing the rollout process, and avoiding the potentially difficult dialogues it is supposed to hold with rights advocates and the public.

“Since the Department of Homeland Security began scanning travelers’ faces at U.S. airports, we have repeatedly called on the agency to honor their personal commitment to complete a rulemaking to establish privacy and security rules of the road,” say Senators Markey and Lee in the joint statement. “Despite these commitments, DHS has failed to follow through and appears to be expanding the program. Further, DHS has a statutory requirement to submit a report to Congress detailing the viability of biometric technologies, including privacy implications and accuracy. DHS should pause their efforts until American travelers fully understand exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how long their data will be held, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether.”

Lee and Markey previously asked urged DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen to delay the program rollout in December 2017 to address legal and privacy issues, and then in May 2018 asked the department to delay the program until it completed its rulemaking process (PDF). Markey also co-signed a letter from congressional democrats late last year requesting information from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about the company’s Rekognition biometric service, and expressing concerns about its social effects.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) announced it has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against CBP to obtain information about whether travelers are given adequate choice to opt-out of facial recognition checks under the Biometric Entry-Exit mandate. While participation in the program is not mandatory, EPIC alleges that modifications CBP has made to the program make it increasingly difficult for travelers to chose not to participate.

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