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Rights groups call for expanded biometrics collection at US borders to be withdrawn

Rights groups call for expanded biometrics collection at US borders to be withdrawn

The proposed rule from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to graduate its Biometric Exit program to production is a “civil liberties disaster in the making,” a coalition of rights groups claims.

The groups have added an 18-page comment to the Federal Register, cataloguing a list of complaints and reasons why they say the proposed rule should be withdrawn.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Senior Staff Attorney Ashley Gorski writes that facial recognition does not work well, and would violate freedoms and privacy if it did, and draws several distinctions with fingerprints and other biometrics, such as that facial images can be captured covertly from a distance.

The ACLU is urging the Biden administration to halt the program, which it alleges is part of a move towards being “an anti-immigrant dystopia.”

Other groups co-signing the comment include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Among the arguments the groups make is that Congress’ 2004 mandate for CBP to collect biometrics does not apply to facial recognition, since that modality was not ready to meet the mandate at that time.

Perhaps more importantly, they note that several federal courts have rejected the appointment of Chad Wolf as Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Services, of which CBP is a part, and they argue that this makes the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) invalid.

The groups note China’s use of face biometrics as part of a surveillance program targeted towards the repressed Uighur minority, as part of an argument that the potential civil rights risks were not properly considered. They also suggest poor performance on people of color and vulnerable populations, citing GAO’s recently-published audit finding in 2019 that roughly 25 percent of travellers on five flights could not be matched, even after repeated attempts.

The comment explicitly states that fingerprint biometrics are less intrusive than facial recognition, and suggests they can more accurately serve DHS’ purpose of tracking visa overstays.

Other arguments against DHS claims include that the agency’s assessment of the time the process takes assumed perfect operation with no errors, that its estimated opt-out rate is questionable, and that the open-ended authority the agency would be granted to collect other biometrics raises concerns over its future actions.

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