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CBP One app criticized over extra-territorial biometrics collection

CBP One app criticized over extra-territorial biometrics collection

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s biometric asylum app CBP One has come under attack over plans to expand the collection of biometrics from non-resident aliens leaving the United States.

A new update to the app, which was publicized in the Federal Register in February, is planned to instruct certain aliens departing the U.S. to “voluntarily provide biographical data, facial images and geolocation.” Submitting a selfie photo with location data is supposed to serve as evidence that an individual has actually departed the country and is aimed at all travelers who receive an I-94 travel record.

The I-94 form is required for people entering the U.S. who are not citizens, resident aliens, or holders of immigration visas.

Plans to expand the collection of biometrics through the CBP One app, however, have invited criticism from immigrant rights groups, FedScoop reports. Legal organization Just Futures Law Co-founder and Deputy Director Julie Mao expressed concerns over CBP’s expansion of “surveillance capabilities and requirements.”

“With little notice or oversight, CBP has expanded biometric and geolocation surveillance to individuals not even in the U.S.,” says Mao. “What business and for that matter legal authority does CBP have to conduct such biometrics and geolocation capture outside the U.S.? This is part of DHS’s disturbing and unchecked externalization of U.S. immigration policy, and therefore surveillance, to other countries.”

In the notice, the CBP explains that the new option is intended to help decrease travel document fraud and catch criminals and terrorists. It is also designed to make information collection easier for immigration authorities as the I-94 travel record serves as an arrival and departure record.

“Having proof of an exit via the CBP One app would provide nonimmigrants some information for CBP officers to consider in the event the officer is unsure whether a nonimmigrant complied with the I-94 requirements provided upon their previous entry,” says the notice.

The CBP One app notice did not specify a timeline for the introduction of the new feature. The feature, however, will likely be used by hundreds of thousands of migrants. The app was developed by the President Biden administration as a gateway to the U.S. asylum system for migrants who otherwise may resort to illegal migration.

Volume high for usage and criticism

According to February data, nearly 450,000 migrants have been allowed into the U.S. under the process with top countries of origin including Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, Honduras, Russia, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile and Guatemala. Migrants can use the CBP One app to schedule an appointment at U.S. ports of entry.

Despite its high usage, the app has been repeatedly criticized over errors, glitches and crashes.

In January, Human Rights Watch wrote to U.S. agencies warning that the app’s liveness detection does not always work for asylum seekers with darker skin tones. The CBP One app is also facing a lawsuit from rights organizations for cutting off access for a wide swath of migrants and asylum seekers who have difficulties using the technology.

According to plans CBP outlined in September, the agency was planning to collect face biometrics from migrants through the CBP One app before entering the U.S. The selfie photos were to be matched with facial recognition and uploaded into the Traveler Verification System gallery and the Automated Targeting System used to compare traveler data. The information was supposed to be shared with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and air carriers working with CBP’s document validation initiative, according to FedScoop.

The CBP is also planning to update the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website to require applicants to provide a selfie alongside a passport image.

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