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US, UK digital systems for immigration biometrics draw criticism

US, UK digital systems for immigration biometrics draw criticism

Amnesty International says that the biometric asylum app CBP One, created by the United States Customs and Border Protection, fails to provide data privacy assurances.

The human rights organization notes that not only is turning CBP One into the only way to apply for asylum in the U.S. a violation of refugee rights, but its biometric capabilities also raise “serious concerns about privacy, surveillance, and potential discrimination.”

The app was developed by President Joe Biden’s administration as a gateway to the U.S. asylum system for migrants who otherwise may resort to illegal migration. Migrants can use the CBP One app to schedule an appointment at U.S. ports of entry.

The CBP One app fails to inform whether asylum seekers’ photographs, which are uploaded onto the app, are being shared with other government agencies, according to the organization. The report questions the app’s use of 1:n facial recognition, arguing that it leaves privacy questions open, including whether the app satisfies requirements of necessity and proportionality under international human rights law.

“The United States must ensure that it is not engaging in mass surveillance and discriminator targeted surveillance, which 1:n facial recognition constitutes,” the report notes.

An analysis of the app also shows that device information and identifiers are sent to Google’s Firebase service which is not disclosed to users.

Earlier this year, CBP One came under attack over plans to expand the collection of biometrics from non-resident aliens leaving the United States. The app has also come under fire for over frequent errors, glitches and crashes. Over half a million people have used the app to schedule an appointment at U.S. ports of entry by March 2024.

UK’s eVisa introduction could bring chaos to immigrants

The UK government is planning to get rid of physical visas and biometric residency permit (BRP) cards, switching its borders and migration system to an online-only scheme by January 1st, 2025. But lawyers and immigrant rights organizations warn that the introduction of eVisas could wreak havoc on immigrant lives.

Migrants living in the UK will be required to set up digital accounts to access documents but many of them are unaware that the new electronic visa scheme exists. According to inews, hundreds of people have not received emails inviting them to set up visas due to a glitch in the system.

Lawyers say that the government has been ignoring warnings that poor communication and technical issues could affect thousands of UK-based migrants, leaving them stranded overseas or unable to use their right to work and right to rent.

“It’s a ridiculously short timeline to do this in; we need a transition period,” Bethan Lant, advocacy, training and development manager at migrant organization Praxis.

Cases of people being locked out of the country because of issues with digital documentation are already being recorded, according to the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA). Concerns have also been raised about how elderly people and other groups will handle the new eVisa.

The UK’s efforts to overhaul its immigration IT systems have been marred by technical issues, delays and budget increases. In March, the country’s data protection watchdog launched an investigation into the Home Office after reports revealed that more than 76,000 people have been affected by biographical and biometrical data errors in the UK government immigration database.

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