The TSA is using facial recognition technology with a “biometric confirmation” rate of 85% for testing purposes at airports.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is expected to complete a 30-day test next month testing the use of facial recognition technology at Los Angeles International Airport, the LA Times reported.
The DHS, (Department of Homeland Security) desires to use facial recognition technology to better track and record approximately 1 million foreign travelers who each year enter and exit the United States, with a rough estimate of 300,000 traveling by plane.
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.
When pictures were taken of travelers whose images were already in the government’s database, the system matched the images 98% of the time, according to the report.
However, airport screeners couldn’t always take photos of the passengers because of “poor network availability, a lack of dedicated staff and compressed boarding times due to flight delays,” according to the audit. As a result, the overall “biometric confirmation” rate was 85%, the examination found.
The audit further blamed the poor quality of digital images for difficulty matching travelers under the age of 29 and over the age of 70.
But the item to highlight is that the facial recognition software once again had difficulty matching persons of color — exactly like Amazon’s facial Rekognition software that erroneously and hilariously identified 28 members of Congress as people who have been arrested for crimes, including six members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Facial recognition historically has resulted in more false positives for African-Americans.
The ACLU has expressed concern before that faulty facial recognition scans, particularly against citizens of color, would result in a possible fatal interaction with law enforcement. Amazon’s Rekognition has already been used by a handful of law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Activist Post previously reported on another test of facial recognition technology in Britain which resulted in 35 false matches and 1 erroneous arrest. So the technology is demonstrated to be far from foolproof.
Last year, Activist Post 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. Now, one year along we can see those efforts have expanded to airports. Customs and Border Protection began testing facial recognition systems at Dulles Airport in 2015, then expanded tests to New York’s JFK Airport in 2016.
In 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.
Airports and border checkpoints aren’t the only places where facial recognition technology is being used. Recently, a new MTA test program announced they will enable cameras near bridges, tunnels, and roadways in New York to recognize the faces of drivers and passengers.
Already privacy advocates have argued that the implementation of the biometric scanners in airports and elsewhere would be a huge step towards a surveillance state, and they’re 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.
Congress has agreed several times to extend face scans on foreign nationals leaving the U.S., 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.”
Last year, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) called for a public end to the biometric border screening program, listing 6 reasons to kill the technology and identifying key problems.
The president’s executive immigration order on January 27th of last year — best known for suspending visitors to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries — also included 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.
For more on facial recognition technology and what’s to come for our future, see this writer’s previous article “The Rise Of Facial Recognition Technology Is Now Inevitable.”
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?
As previously noted, 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 government mandate.
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post.