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The White House instructed the Department of Homeland Security to escalate the deployment of a biometric monitoring system to evaluate all visitors crossing US borders, as part of President Trump’s controversial executive order barring travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Now, Homeland Security is rushing to equip airports across the country with sophisticated facial recognition software, according to an agency official. The technology will check the identities of departing visitors to ensure they haven’t overstayed visas, aren’t wanted in criminal or terrorist investigations, and to confirm they aren’t trying to leave the country with forged documents.
Csmonitor.com reports that since 2004, DHS has collected fingerprints from most foreigners entering the country to ensure imposters and criminals don’t get in. But the department hasn’t been able to similarly check the identities of departing visitors, largely because jetways, gangplanks, and highways weren’t built to accommodate fingerprint or facial sensors.
In a recent trial at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the agency successfully tested workstations that captured images to verify passengers’ identities before boarding. At the nation’s top airports, DHS also has tried mobile fingerprint scanners to identify foreigners exiting the country. In addition, DHS has experimented with capturing images of irises at an outdoor US-Mexico border crossing in Otay Mesa, Calif.
In addition to privacy issues, there arise questions about the accuracy of facial recognition technology. For instance, algorithms in three state-of-the-art facial recognition systems all performed less accurately on females, Blacks, and adults under 30, according to a 2012 IEEE study coauthored by an FBI technologist.
Yet, a DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman said the agency is accelerating the creation of a biometric exit system “by building upon existing operational platforms” and has found “a feasible solution.” CBP currently is collaborating with partners in industry and government to ensure the system works properly.
The agency retains photos of nonimmigrant aliens and lawful permanent residents for a maximum of 15 years, and deletes any pictures of US citizens once their identities have been confirmed, according to the assessment. CBP officers connect mobile tablets to a virtual private network with two-factor authentication and strong encryption to transfer face snapshots to the agency’s database. The images are deleted from the device after the flight is completed. Only agency personnel and CBP contractors can access the collection device and database.
CBP acknowledges it does often share information with federal, state, and local authorities, which may be authorized to use the information for purposes beyond the scope of the agency’s mission.