The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are launching three high-tech experiments using facial, iris and fingerprint identification to enhance efforts to block illegal entry into the country.
However, the experiments are raising privacy concerns among civil liberties activists, who fear that the collected information can be used by the government to spy on Americans, Motherboard reports
Under the umbrella title of the Apex Air Entry and Exit Re-Engineering Project, the program already is underway at Washington's Dulles Airport and soon will be extended to other locations, including Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport and the Otay Mesa crossing in California at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The program was revealed in a series of slides leaked to Motherboard by Arjun Sethi, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after a March 10 presentation at CBP headquarters.
Sethi told Motherboard: "The public should take notice. These programs may be coming to a theater near you."
The first experiment at Dulles, the "1:1 Facial Recognition Air Entry Pilot," involves taking snapshots of random Americans entering the country and, using facial recognition software, comparing them with photos stored in a chip contained in the passport to see if the right person is using the passport, Gizmodo reports
The Atlanta experiment involves roaming CBP officers with handheld devices which, most likely, are fingerprint scanners, Gizmodo notes.
The third, at the Otay crossing, called the "Pedestrian Biometric Experiment," involves facial and iris recognition scanning.
The Government Accountability Office
(GAO) last year reported that out of 28 million passports issued in 2009 and 2010, GAO found "13,470 passport issuances to individuals who used the SSN (Social Security number), but not the name, of a deceased person, as well as 24,278 issuances to applicants who used a likely invalid SSN."
A CBP spokesperson told Motherboard
: "CBP regularly identifies instances in which imposters attempt to enter the United States."
CBP plans to collect photographs for 60-90 days out of the 19-month experiment, and said in a statement designed to assuage privacy fears
that images will be searchable only by time and date stamp, not name, and will not be shared outside of DHS, unless an individual becomes involved in a criminal proceeding.
Further, DHS states, "CBP is storing the photographs in a stand-alone server only accessible by a small number of CBP personnel."
However, Jake Laperruque, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Motherboard: "Here we have a program where individuals are not suspected of wrongdoing and are engaged in routine behavior, and they are being required to submit a piece of biometric data that could identify them later and that's going to be retained.
"That's definitely a dark road to be going down with a lot of potential for abuse."
Dave Maass, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard: "Today, it's testing at the border. Tomorrow it could be facial recognition deployed in public places."
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