The US Department of Customs and Border Protection has applied for a significant expansion of its authority to perform facial recognition at US airports.
On November 19, the agency submitted a dossier to the Federal Register to expand the existing biometrics program, extending the program to all air and land ports.
The file illustrates the program’s entire focus on facial recognition, at the expense of alternative methods, such as fingerprints.
The submission is subject to public comment for a short period after it has been submitted, with this comment period ending on Monday, December 21.
The current biometrics program was first deployed in 2017 as a pilot program limited to a few ports, in order to assess its viability.
As part of the pilot mandate, customs officials could only collect data from designated ports and travelers, but the new proposal allows border agencies to expand the program at their own discretion.
The dossier says: If this proposed rule is adopted as a final rule, Customs and Border Protection will continue to expand testing as necessary.
This means blanket permission to collect facial photos for non-citizens, and anyone who passes through customs en route to the United States or outside must expect to have their face photographed and added to the facial recognition program, under the new law.
The system can also be used to identify US citizens, although they reserve the option to unsubscribe.
The file clarifies that the proposed rule stipulates that all foreigners may be required to photograph them upon entry or departure, and that the use of facial recognition technology upon entry and departure makes the process of verifying the identity of the foreigner more efficient and accurate.
The biometrics program was initially proposed as a means of verifying travelers’ identity and preventing visa fraud, and was later expanded to include new measures to identify crime suspects.
As the privacy assessment explains, the database that matches the visa photos for travelers will also match those available photos with images associated with offensive records, such as TECS surveillance records, and al Qaeda records for TSDB terrorist screening data.
It remains unclear how President-elect Biden will handle the expanded system when he takes office on January 20.
Biden has been largely silent about facial recognition throughout his campaign and has not committed to any position on the program.
Earlier this month, a coalition of civil rights groups pushed the incoming president to tighter regulation of the technology in an open letter.
In June, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban facial recognition at the federal level, but the proposal did not move forward.