By Aaron Kesel
The Customs And Border Protection (CBP) has hilariously claimed that its facial recognition in airports across the U.S. isn’t a surveillance program, Nextgov reported. Meanwhile, a government watchdog organization has made the horrifying claim that the FBI has 640 million photographs it can rummage through by utilizing facial recognition technology.
It’s been two years since Customs and Border Protection began deploying facial recognition systems at U.S. airports; and despite the recent backlash against the software, the agency is showing no signs of slowing down. But if you ask Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner, the agency’s use of facial recognition falls far short of the dystopian panopticon feared by many of the tech’s critics.
“This is not a surveillance program,” Wagner, who heads CBP’s biometric entry and exit initiative, said in a conversation with Nextgov. “We are not just hanging a camera in an airport and randomly identifying people … as they’re walking through.”
Currently, the facial recognition tech is deployed in some capacity at 16 airports across the U.S, and by 2021, CBP expects to scale up the program to cover more than 97 percent of passengers flying outside of the U.S, according to Nextgov.
Activist Post previously reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wanted to develop advanced facial recognition technology that scans the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the U.S. border checkpoints. Last year we saw those efforts have expanded to airports with numerous tests throughout the U.S.
Activist Post then followed up on that report showing 346 pages of documents obtained by the nonprofit research organization Electronic Privacy Information Center which showed efforts are expanding even more with plans of implementing the technology in as many as 20 different top airports by 2021. It is a part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Biometric exit” agenda, which was originally signed into law under the Obama administration, BuzzFeed News reported.
This, of course, is following a hidden directive within an executive mandate signed by U.S. president Donald Trump in his immigration order on January 27th of 2017 — best known for suspending visitors to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries — also bundled in this directive, however, was an article expediting the biometric exit program.
The order further stated that there will be three progress reports to be made over the next year on the program. Trump’s executive order in March built on that by specifically limiting biometric scans at the border to “in-scope travelers” or those who aren’t U.S. or Canadian citizens. However, that doesn’t account for the surveillance being used in airports across the U.S.
However, a key problem when it comes to using the technology inside airports is the lack of restrictions on how airlines, airport operators, and other commercial third parties can use or disclose data collected under a government mandate. Also, we must ask how long this data will be retained and how do we know the government will follow its commitment to delete the data?
Another key problem is not only the collection of data but the collection of American citizens’ own data.
1996, Congress authorized automated tracking of foreign citizens as they enter and exit the U.S. In 2004, DHS began biometric screening of foreign citizens upon arrival.
This is all sure to just enrage privacy advocates everywhere even more and spur protest against the new suggested Orwellian system. Privacy advocates have long opposed biometric screening of immigrants.
Already privacy advocates have sounded the alarm and argued that the implementation of the biometric scanners in airports and elsewhere would be a huge step towards a surveillance state, and they’re absolutely right.
“Homeland Security has never consulted the American public about whether Americans should be subject to face recognition,” said Harrison Rudolph, a law fellow at the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, in a blog post.
“What’s even worse is there is good reason to think Homeland Security’s face recognition systems will be expanded,” including to TSA checkpoints before a flight, he said.
Privacy advocate groups, attorneys, and even recently Microsoft, which also markets its own facial recognition system, have all raised concerns over the technology, pointing to issues of consent, racial profiling, and the potential to use images gathered through facial recognition cameras as evidence of criminal guilt by law enforcement.
“We don’t want to live in a world where government bureaucrats can enter in your name into a database and get a record of where you’ve been and what your financial, political, sexual, and medical associations and activities are,” Jay Stanley, an attorney with ACLU, told BuzzFeed News about the use of facial recognition cameras in retail stores. “And we don’t want a world in which people are being stopped and hassled by authorities because they bear resemblance to some scary character.”
Congress has agreed several times in the past to extend face scans on foreign nationals leaving the US, but critics say that lawmakers never intended for Americans to also become subject to the new measure.
“Congress has passed Biometric Exit bills at least nine times,” said Rudolph. “In each, it has been clear: This is a program meant for foreign nationals.”
Congress under the House Oversight Committee recently held a bipartisan discussion on the issue of regulating the use of facial recognition technology and biometric cameras.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, “there are virtually no controls …. Whatever walk of life you come from, you may be a part of this [surveillance] process.”
The committee’s top Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) also expressed “It’s time for a time out” on government use of the surveillance technology.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection considers its jurisdiction to be anything within 100 miles of the border, so naturally one of the privacy questions for Americans is whether this tech would be deployed inside the United States.
In 2017, Homeland Security clarified their position on domestic spying stating Americans who don’t want faces scanned leaving the country “shouldn’t travel.”
“The only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling,” the DHS wrote in a document.
Also happening in the same year, Activist Post reported on the DHS seeking to develop advanced facial recognition technology when the agency called on technology companies to submit proposals for the system.
At the time, the agency noted it was looking for a company to produce technology that could accurately scan the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the U.S. border on highways. However, as is shown in this article, that technology was already being tested at public airports for years prior in a limited manner at least back to 2015.
Last year during test programs at Boston, Houston, New York, and Atlanta, travelers were photographed as they prepared to board planes. The cameras then used facial recognition technology to match up the passengers’ faces with data collected by the federal government on each foreign national who entered the country. It’s interesting to note that there was a 15% margin for error in the tests giving an 85% accuracy rating in the study of the facial recognition technology, Activist Post reported.
The CBP isn’t the only government agency utilizing facial recognition technology, the FBI is also using technology called the Interstate Photo System to identify potential suspects and a watchdog organization the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has claimed that the agency has access to 640 million photographs which includes drivers’ licenses, passports, and mugshots.
The GAO made the shocking claim under Gretta Goodwin, during the bipartisan Congressional hearing on facial recognition technology, Associated Press reported.
“Lawmakers must put the brakes on law enforcement use of this technology until Congress decides what, if any, use cases are permissible,” said Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) echoed the organization’s stance.
The same government watchdog previously stated that the FBI was failing to moderate its use of facial recognition software and its system was inaccurate, as Activist Post reported.
This comes as the Bureau increases its use of the technology, currently trialing Amazon’s Facial Rekognition software, which has had its accuracy questioned in the past numerous times. One of those times included testing by the ACLU which discovered that Amazon’s software falsely identified 28 black members of Congress as criminals.
In 2018 it was reported that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were using this same Amazon Facial Rekognition technology to sift through surveillance data.
The FBI isn’t the only agency having trouble with facial recognition software; an audit report last year detailed the TSA received a “biometric confirmation” rate of 85% for testing purposes at airports. While it’s reported that another agency ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering implementing Amazon’s controversial software.
Amazon employees who are against the company selling facial recognition technology to the government have protested the company’s decision.
Over 20 groups of shareholders have sent several letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
One letter was sent in June of last year signed by 20 groups of Amazon shareholders sent to Bezos, urging him to stop selling the company’s face recognition software to law enforcement.
“We are concerned the technology would be used to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations,” the shareholders, which reportedly include Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, wrote. “We are concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes.”
Another letter was sent in January 2019, organized by Open Mic, a nonprofit organization focused on corporate accountability, and was filed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood both letters warned the technology poses “potential civil and human rights risks.”
Numerous civil rights organizations have also co-signed a letter demanding Amazon stop assisting government surveillance; and several members of Congress have expressed concerns about the partnerships.
Meanwhile, facial recognition technology is being pushed as a new means for an A.I. police state without human involvement — a frightening thought to say the least. Defense One reports that “AI-Enabled Cameras That Detect Crime Before it Occurs Will Soon Invade the Physical World” are in the works and on display at ISC West, a recent security technology conference in Las Vegas.
Activist Post has previously reported in its own way that the rise of facial recognition technology is inevitable and, as a result, the death of one’s privacy is sure to come with it.
This writer has focused on facial recognition technology. From Amazon helping law enforcement with its Facial Rekogntion software, DHS wanting to use it for border control, to the Olympics wanting to use the tech for security.
Even retail is pushing for the technology as an anti-theft mechanism to be introduced in a number of stores using biometric facial recognition software FaceFirst to build a database of shoplifters, as Activist Post reported.
We can see how far this Orwellian technology has come; it’s about to be mass adopted by U.S. airports nationwide. No one can deny it, we have undoubtedly entered a mix between Strange Days and The Minority Report; Hollywood wasn’t a script to create a dystopian future. With our future seeded in a surveillance blanket we should all be asking who has control of our biometric data and for what purpose?
Consent to be identified by the government whenever and wherever we go is approval to have the government decide whether, when, and where we are allowed to travel. Put bluntly: it is very dangerous.
As previously written, “we are entering the Minority Report; there is no going back after this technology is public and citizens are indoctrinated that it’s ‘for their safety.’”
At this point, we are officially trading liberty and privacy for security. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The scary part is that intelligence agencies would be able to use their surveillance dragnet interlinked into CCTV cameras and companies like Facebook that utilize the technology to track someone’s location in real-time. We are walking into a draconian Orwellian nightmare and things don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. But at least there is bipartisan support so far within Congress to put a halt to the development of these technologies before further study. However, its extremely telling that the head of the CBP’s biometric entry and exit initiative John Wagner is claiming that its program deployed in airports across the U.S. “isn’t a surveillance program.”
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.
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