Biometrics checks expand at Southwest U.S. border and Seattle Port as EFF seeks data collection info

Biometrics checks expand at Southwest U.S. border and Seattle Port as EFF seeks data collection info

Biometric facial recognition has been introduced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the El Paso Port of Entry to increase security and streamline travel, according to an agency announcement.

The technology was deployed to 3 of the 14 pedestrian lanes at the Paso Del Norte International Crossing earlier this month, and CBP expects to deploy it to the remaining lanes, as well as pedestrian areas of the Bridge of the Americas and Ysleta Bridge later this year. The agency says travellers will pose for a photo, which will be compared to a passport or government-held image in just a few seconds, with 97 percent matching accuracy. U.S. citizens can alternatively advise the CBP officer when they approach the inspection area that they wish to undergo a different procedure for identity verification. In the event they do participate, the data of U.S. nationals will be deleted after 12 hours.

“CBP uses biometric facial comparison technology to create a secure and seamless traveler experience at U.S. Ports of Entry,” comments CBP El Paso Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha. “By automating the identity verification process, CBP can process travelers more efficiently while virtually eliminating the ability of criminals to present other people’s legitimate documents as their own for admission to the United States.”

CBP has caught nearly 200 imposters attempting to cross the Southwest border using biometric facial verification since September, 2018, according to the announcement. Local NBC affiliate KXAN reports slightly longer lines at the border checkpoint and mixed reactions from pedestrians crossing into the U.S.

The Port of Seattle has completed a pair of study sessions to educate stakeholders on how facial recognition is used to improve efficiency and service, to hear the concerns of civil society groups about threats to privacy and data protection from the technology’s use, and to learn about the planned federal implementation of biometric facial recognition and how the port has prepared for it. CBP plans to begin using facial recognition at the port by the end of 2020 for all arriving international passengers, according to a Port Authority blog post.

The sessions are intended to inform a Commission Motion to provide safeguards, which will be considered at a Port of Seattle Commission hearing on December 10, 2019, which is open to the public.

Points made during the sessions include the prior use of biometrics at the port to screen employees for access, optional use of Clear, and for disembarkation of Norwegian Cruise Lines at the Peer 66 cruise terminal. CBP is already using the technology for arrivals at 11 airports and 6 cruise terminals, and for exit procedures at 20 airports. The post notes that the deployment does not support mass surveillance, and does not include the non-secure side of the airport.

Acknowledging that state or federal guidelines may be coming, the committee recommends a set of seven “biometrics guiding principles.” Facial recognition should be voluntary, private, equitable, transparent, lawful, ethical, and justified, according to the principles.

The post also outlines the jurisdiction of the Port Authority and federal agencies, says it will communicate its principles to agencies it does not have direct jurisdiction over, and mention CBP’s privacy protections.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced it is suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to obtain information about its rapid DNA testing program for migrant families at the border. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint requests disclosure of deployment data, the number of individuals from whom DNA has been collected, the accuracy of matching attempts, and the exact gene used to identify parent-child relationships, as well as support materials including training manuals, consent forms, and privacy statements.

DHS indicated the testing was part of its policy in June, after a pilot program that had grown to seven locations along the Southern border. The EFF refers to criticism of the technology as inadequate to meet the standards of accredited DNA laboratories, and test results in Sweden which have shown low accuracy.

“Congress has never authorized ICE to conduct Rapid DNA testing on migrant families at the border, yet DHS has deployed this privacy-invasive technology without explaining how accurate the testing is, whether families can challenge the results, or how the program may be expanded in the future,” says EFF Staff Attorney Saira Hussain.

The EFF has also submitted comments on the rule proposed by the Justice Department for collecting DNA from 750,000 detained immigrants as young as 14 years old annually.

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