The US Department of Homeland Security is reportedly rushing to set up facial recognition systems that will scan all international passengers — including US citizens — in the top 20 US airports by 2021. This is being done without proper vetting or regulatory safeguards, according to a BuzzFeed News report Monday.
There were reportedly “no limits” on how partnering airlines could use facial recognition data collected by the US Customs and Border Protection program, according to BuzzFeed News’ deep dive into 346 pages of documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research group. CBP reportedly limited participating companies and third-party firms from using this data in December, but it’s unclear how the new rule is being enforced.
CBP didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told BuzzFeed News that it would keep photos of non-US citizens departing the country for up to 14 days.
“By partnering with airports and airlines to provide a secure stand-alone system that works quickly and reliably, which they will integrate into their boarding process, CBP does not have to rebuild everything from the ground up as we drive innovation across the travel experience,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Critics of facial recognition tech have said advances in artificial intelligence and the proliferation of cameras have made it increasingly easy for governments to watch and track what individuals are doing. Microsoft in December urged governments to enact legislation in 2019 that requires facial recognition tech to be independently tested to ensure accuracy, prevent unfair bias and protect people’s rights. Amazon’s shareholders in January called on the e-commerce giant to stop selling its Rekognition technology to government agencies, following criticism from civil liberties groups, members of Congress and Amazon’s own employees.
BuzzFeed News said airports currently included in the CBP’s facial recognition program are in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington (Dulles and Reagan), Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Houston Hobby, Dallas-Fort Worth, JFK, Miami, San Jose, Orlando and Detroit.