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CBP One app deployed for asylum seekers, biometric surveillance concerns raised


smartphone biometric identity and document verification

The Biden Administration has “quietly” expanded the use of the CBP One mobile app, which uses face biometrics to confirm the user’s identity, for people seeking asylum in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reports.

Administration officials have also expanded the use of CBP One to people who may be eligible for exemption from the Title 42 policy, put in place by the Trump Administration to remove people who have been in country with a communicable disease outbreak. CBP One provides the agency with biometric and biographic information typically gathered through time-consuming manual data entry during an interview with the subject, which CBP says is a safer process in pandemic conditions.

CBP One and its online portal are described as an emerging technology in a recent privacy impact assessment. The app was initially launched with limited functionality last October.

More than 11,000 people seeking asylum in the U.S. have been allowed into the country pending the decision in their cases, in a move partly enabled by CBP One, the report says.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a House Appropriations Subcommittee that DHS is seeking $1.2 billion to modernize its border security technologies, in part for “safe, orderly and humane treatment of migrants.”

An ACLU representative says that any collection of face biometrics by the government “creates a risk of persistent surveillance,” and that the technology poses major privacy risks. The Times also spoke to a former CBP official who now works in consulting, who said the app could help alleviate the agency carry out more efficient and fairer processes at the border.

CBP requested emergency approval to use CBP One in May from the Office of Management and Budget, which avoided the pubic comment period and notification process normally required. The UNHCR has begun using the app, according to the Times.

A representative of non-profit refugee advocacy group HIAS said the app could reduce the influence of smugglers who pray on vulnerable migrants, if the government properly balances security with people’s opportunity to claim asylum.

A CBP spokesperson told the Times that use of CBP One is voluntary.

The privacy impact assessment notes that additional biographic information can be provided instead of a face biometric match, but that alternative is not yet ready.

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