The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is pushing to impose mandatory facial recognition scans on all Americans entering or leaving the United States, moving to close a loophole that allows citizens to opt out.
Proposed in a recent filing, the DHS requested a change to the current rules in order to “provide that all travelers, including US citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure” from the US, citing the need to identify criminals or “suspected terrorists.” While not yet implemented, the rule change is in the “final stages of clearance,” a DHS official told CNN Business.
Under the existing guidelines, US citizens and other lawful permanent residents have the ability to avoid airport biometric scans and identify themselves by another means. While some travelers have found it difficult to opt out given opaque or inconsistent guidelines from airport to airport, the DHS would apparently like to cut down on the confusion by doing away with the exemption altogether.
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The new rule was rejected by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, who said it would only further erode Americans’ privacy and subject them to yet another layer of intrusive government surveillance.
“Time and again, the government told the public and members of Congress that US citizens would not be required to submit to this intrusive surveillance technology as a condition of traveling,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, adding that the rule raises “profound privacy concerns.”
Travelers, including US citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel.
The DHS is currently set to outfit 20 of America’s largest airports with biometric scanners by 2021, despite a flurry of privacy issues and ongoing technical problems. Last year, an internal watchdog report found that the department’s facial recognition tech was not performing up to snuff and “may be unable to meet expectations” by its deadline. The DHS also piqued security concerns last year when it announced it would partner with Amazon for its all-seeing HART system, which will pass highly detailed information on some 250 million people to the tech giant for storage.
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Recalling a data breach in June which saw 100,000 license plate and traveler images stolen from a private contractor hired to store information for the DHS, Stanley said the government simply “cannot be trusted” with the invasive technology.
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