CBP does not have data to assess racial bias in Biometric Exit facial recognition

U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not gather data on race and ethnicity, and therefore is not able to assess any potential bias in its biometric facial recognition algorithms without relying on reports from the Department of Homeland Security’s Redress program, an agency representative told an audience at the International Association of Privacy Professionals Summit, CNet reports.

CBP Privacy Officer Debra Danisek says the agency collects data from passports, such as age, gender, and citizenship, but does not have the information it would need to know when a mismatch is based on the subject’s skin color.

“In terms of, ‘Does this technology have a different impact on different racial groups?,’ we don’t collect that sort of data,” Danisek said. “In terms of keeping metrics on which groups are more affected, we wouldn’t have those metrics to begin with.” She said CBP would investigate if a pattern of complaints about the process was detected.

An audit report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found only 85 percent of passengers were confirmed with biometrics, though the technology has also been successful in matching 98 percent of passengers in demonstrations.

Constitution Project Senior Counsel Jake Laperruque expressed concern about CBPs approach to the issue in an email to CNet.

“The comments reflect a troubling lack of concern about well-documented problem of facial recognition systems having higher error rates for people of color,” he says. “CBP can’t simply ignore a serious issue and take a ‘see no evil approach’ — if they’re not willing to confront serious civil rights problems and deal with them, they shouldn’t be trusted to operate a program like this.”

Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology suggested racial bias could be a problem for the Biometric Entry/Exit system over a year ago.

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