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US border agency’s proposed biometrics rule draws divided reactions

US border agency’s proposed biometrics rule draws divided reactions

Divided reactions have sprung out of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) proposed new rule for its biometric entry/exit system, NextGov reports. The recently-published rule proposal would eliminate age restrictions within the agency’s facial recognition systems, and the ability to opt-out of its data collection. Previously persons outside of the age range 14-79 were exempt from biometrics collection. The proposed rule would also allow an expansion in its biometric collection practices.

Lawmakers and privacy experts however, have called this proposed move premature, states NextGov. Though Rep. Mike Rogers (member of the House Homeland Security Committee) asserts that biometric methods were a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission Report, Democratic lawmakers have disagreed. Rep. Bennie Thompson (chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee) has introduced a legislation which explicitly bans expansion of biometric air exit.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented an entry program to the U.S. for travelers, in 2004 (legacy US-VISIT program), however, implementing a biometric exit version is proving difficult. Thompson calls the DHS’s deployment of facial recognition technology “rushed,” saying it both fails to meet its own goals, and lacks attention to issues associated with the technology such as privacy and bias.

In 2019, CBP experienced a privacy breach, where more than 180,000 traveler images were compromised.

Particularly stressed by Thompson is the lack of high-quality images the cameras are able to capture, especially of people of color. This follows National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) 2019 report on bias in face biometrics, which found significantly higher error rates for some facial recognition algorithms matching visible minorities. The Government Accountability Office noted in a September audit that the algorithm used by CBP in its Traveler Verification System is among the least-affected by these discrepancies, and CBP’s proposal says its data shows only “marginal differences.”

Other experts in the field have been expressing concern that the facial recognition technology is not yielding the benefits of which DHS claims. Whilst the Trump administration has been accused of rushing the collection of biometric data deemed unnecessary by some. Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center, however, believes there is a security advantage to using biometric data, as opposed to only biographic data, in entry-exit.

If Thompson’s legislation goes ahead, it would limit the power of “acting” officials and require the government to ensure transparent collection of the data, following guidance to be developed by DHS for collecting, using, retaining, sharing and disposing of biometric information, writes NextGov. Securing voluntary consent where necessary will need to be conducted through an “opt-in” approach as opposed to an “opt-out” one, states the proposed bill.

The GAO audit also found a “lack of appropriate notice of its (CBP’s) facial recognition program” in airports, which does not give people a chance to opt-out until it is too late to do so.

CBP would be subjected to assessments and regular reporting to Congress in order to properly adhere to regulations under Thompson’s legislation. The public has 30 days to respond to CBP’s proposed rule.

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