Controversy Over Widening Use of Technology 


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The use of facial recognition technology for public security has been gaining momentum, although privacy and civil rights advocates in the US have been demanding restrictions on the government’s use of the technology, arguing that without stricter rules, law enforcement agencies would deploy the tech for increasingly intrusive purposes. 

The US Customs and Border Protection has announced that it plans to significantly ramp up its use of facial recognition as part of a broader effort to upgrade its systems for vetting international travelers.

In addition to expanding its biometric capabilities, the agency is also working to migrate all of its traveler processing tech to the cloud, create more self-service tools for the public and let officers use mobile devices to verify people entering the country. According to the solicitation document, expanding CBP’s use of biometrics will be a major component of the modernization effort. 

According to the document, the agency plans to replace the system officers currently use to check travel documents with an application that relies on biometrics. The Simplified Arrival platform, which uses facial recognition software to verify the identity of everyone flying into the country, is already up and running at 15 domestic and international airports.

The agency already uses facial recognition technology to keep tabs on international travelers at more than a dozen nationwide airports and multiple checkpoints along the U.S.-Mexico border. But now CBP officials expect to deploy facial recognition and other biometric identification tools more extensively.

“The paradigm will evolve from biographic data focused to biometric data centric,” officials said in the solicitation. “A biometric-based approach allows threats to be pushed-out further beyond our borders before travelers arrive to the U.S.” 

“Integration of facial recognition technologies is intended throughout all passenger applications,” they added. 

A CBP spokesperson told the contract would allow for facial recognition software and cameras to be implemented “in any environment”. 

CBP officials often defend their use of facial recognition by citing its convenience for travelers and emphasizing the narrow scope of the agency’s current deployments. But expanding biometric identification beyond airport terminals to every person entering and exiting the country would play into many of its critics’ longstanding fears.

The Transportation Security Administration is also in the early stages of rolling out facial recognition software for domestic travelers, and the Homeland Security Department is in the process of upgrading its enterprisewide biometric identification capabilities.

While biometric identification technology is a major component of CBP’s IT overhaul, the solicitation indicates the agency also plans to ramp up its efforts in other areas, like cloud migration, mobile capabilities, cybersecurity and customer self-service.