DHS Wants Airport Facial Recognition Scans of US Citizens

On December 2, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a proposal to expand facial recognition checks at airports to include U.S. citizens, who were previously exempt from these mandatory checks. The proposal states that all travelers, not just foreign nationals or visitors, should be required to complete facial recognition checks before they are allowed to enter and leave the United States.

According to the current rules, American citizens and green card holders are able to opt out of facial recognition checks. The proposal would eliminate these exemptions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is against the proposal, stating that people should be concerned about data privacy and the possibility of data breaches, citing the Customs and Border Patrol license plate and traveler image breach in June and a lack of safeguard protections.

“Time and again, the government told the public and members of Congress that U.S. citizens would not be required to submit to this intrusive surveillance technology as a condition of traveling… Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel. The government’s insistence on hurtling forward with a large-scale deployment of this powerful surveillance technology raises profound privacy concerns,” Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst, said. 

The rule changes are in the final stages of clearance and will not go into effect until after a period of public comment.

 Facial recognition technology usage is increasing worldwide, especially in airports to match a person’s facial scan or image with a database and flagging any inconsistencies for an agent to check on the spot. The United States has used biometrics at airports, including taking photos and scanning the fingerprints of non-US citizens. President Trump issued an executive order to roll out biometrics for all domestic and international travelers at airports.

The DHS believes the proposal will help identify criminals and detect the use of fraudulent travel documents. Using biometrics at entries and exits has been recommended since the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the 9/11 Commission Report, as an essential piece of US national security, the DHS believes the proposed changes will help these security measures. The DHS’s goal is “to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists,” which it stated can be seamlessly accomplished through the use of biometrics and entry and exit points.

The use of facial recognition technology on passengers departing the United States has grown over the past few years in an effort to catch those who overstayed their visas. The DHS has a deadline of 2021 to implement facial recognition scanners in the 20 largest United States airports.