The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is speaking out against a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy proposal that would give US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unprecedented new abilities to collect facial recognition data at the country’s borders. The ACLU argues that the new policy would disproportionately impact immigrants and people of color, and create a dystopian surveillance infrastructure in America.
According to the terms of the proposal, CBP would have the authority to record the faceprint of nearly every non-US citizen that passes through the border, regardless of age and immigration status. Those faceprints would be stored for a period of 75 years, and would be available to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and other governments in addition to DHS. As a result, government authorities would be able to use those templates in surveillance operations anywhere in America, and well beyond the borders where they were collected.
In that regard, the ACLU noted that facial biometrics are unique insofar as they can be tracked at a distance, and without the knowledge or consent of the person being scanned. That makes the technology more invasive than other modalities like fingerprint recognition, especially if the government uses it to target vulnerable populations. For example, Huawei recently came under fire for helping to develop a facial recognition system that would notify police whenever it spots a member of China’s Uighur Muslim minority group, while the US government is using facial recognition technology to monitor the activities of protestors.
The ACLU also argued that CBP cannot be trusted to use facial recognition. Studies have shown that the technology is less accurate when asked to identify people of color, which has led to false arrests and other biased outcomes that disproportionately fall on minority communities. Meanwhile, CBP has a history of civil liberties violations (multiple people have died in CBP custody) that suggests that it will not hesitate to use the technology to profile minority groups, and will instead continue to violate people’s civil liberties moving forward.
The ACLU is asking the Biden administration to retract the policy proposal, noting that DHS is trying to push it through without any kind of Congressional oversight or approval. Several senators have made a similar request, as have other advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
December 22, 2020 – by Eric Weiss