DHS wants to use facial recognition on 97 percent of departing air passengers by 2023

Greg Nash

The Department of Homeland Security in a report released Wednesday said that it is aiming to use facial recognition technology on 97 percent of departing air passengers within the next four years.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is a part of Homeland Security, said that it believes it can implement facial recognition technology in airports across the country by 2023 by partnering with airports and airlines, which help the agency deploy cameras to capture peoples’ faces.

{mosads}CBP has been implementing this program, which photographs passengers at their airport gates before they board their flights, in 2017. By 2018, the agency had unveiled the program at 15 U.S. airports. 

The program, called “Biometric Exit,” cross-references the images of departing passengers with a “gallery” of images photos from visa and passport applications. The matching service allows CBP to create a record of the passenger’s departure, which they can then use to figure out if the individual has overstayed their visa or if they are in the country legally otherwise. 

CBP in the documents on Wednesday said it has identified 7,000 travelers who had overstayed their visa.

The agency noted that it has also used a similar system to identify six travelers who were presenting travel documents that did not belong to them or that had been altered. 

Quartz first reported CBP’s intention to use the facial recognition technology on almost all passengers leaving the U.S. by 2023.

Privacy advocates have raised serious civil rights concerns around facial recognition technology, including the possibility that the information gathered by CBP could be used by other federal agencies to track and learn sensitive information about those traveling in the U.S.

“Once you take that high-quality photograph, why not run it against the FBI database?”  Alvaro Bedoya, a facial recognition researcher with Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology, told The Verge. “Why not run it against state databases of people with outstanding warrants? Suddenly you’re moving from this world in which you’re just verifying identity to another world where the act of flying is cause for a law enforcement search.” 

President Trump in March 2017 issued an executive order speeding up the use of facial recognition identification for “100 percent of all international passengers” in the top U.S. airports by 2021. 

CBP plans to use the facial recognition technology on travelers aboard 16,300 flights per week in the next few years, Buzzfeed News reported. 

There are no laws regulating the use of facial recognition technology in the U.S., though lawmakers earlier this year introduced a bill that would regulate the use of facial recognition in public places.   

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