New face biometric systems spread around borders but Congress has questions
In December, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency announced that it had deployed biometric facial comparison systems to four new border crossings in Washington state. Every few months, the feds announce a handful of similar deployments.
A month later, a pair of U.S. senators asked the CBP for visibility into its use of facial recognition systems to collect data from U.S. citizens as they leave and enter the nation.
While the new systems in Washington did not prompt the congressional request, they do illustrate how the executive branch continues to expand biometric surveillance even as the legislative branch tries to measure the moves’ effects on citizens.
The new deployments are in the ports of Laurier, Metaline Falls, Ferry, Boundary and Frontier.
Agencies officials have said AI-backed facial comparison — the Simplified Arrival program — has helped intercept imposters and remove some obstacles for travelers returning home. Its real objective is not to verify U.S. citizens, but to spot arriving non-citizens, some of whom are trying to sneak into the country.
Be that as it may, U.S. senators Jeff Merkley and Roy Blunt say they worried that citizens are ill-informed about what is being collected, protected and stored. Notification about opting out of the program may be insufficient as well.
“Thousands of travelers every day” in all but 40 airports, according to a letter from Merkley and Blunt to the CBP, are subjected to scans by the face biometric hardware and software. Those travelers and those entering seaports and land crossings may not be giving informed consent, they say.
‘Facial recognition,’ under which ‘facial comparison’ falls, is prone to bias, say Merkley and Blunt. With that in mind, the pair have asked for data about who are flagged automatically.