A new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General Office offers more details about how US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using Simplified Arrival at immigration checkpoints. The report specifically reveals that CBP has revised its use policy to take some decision making powers away from individual agents during an inspection.
According to the Inspector General, CBP agents no longer have the ability to override the system if Simplified Arrival determines that a traveler’s face does not match the image on the ID they are using to travel. Instead, any facial mismatches are automatically referred to another agent for a secondary inspection, where the discrepancy will be vetted more thoroughly.
In plain terms, that means that a secondary inspection is now mandatory whenever a facial mismatch occurs with Simplified Arrival. The policy only applies to travelers over the age of 13, and already triggered a secondary inspection for roughly 23,000 travelers since 2019.
CBP framed the new policy as an enhanced security measure, insofar as the agency is no longer taking any chances in cases in which there is not a facial recognition match. Having said that, the news may be concerning to civil rights advocates worried about bias. Human agents are present at the second inspection, so the system falls short of true AI decision-making. However, the fact that it is mandatory means that certain populations could face a much more onerous travel process if the facial recognition system is more accurate for some groups than it is for others. It could also expose individuals in those groups to excessive law enforcement scrutiny.
The CBP policy essentially strips agents of their discretion at primary inspection, and hands that responsibility to Simplified Arrival (agents are ordered to notify a supervisor whenever a mismatch occurs). The facial recognition system has now been deployed at every international airport in the US. The Inspector General, meanwhile, does not seem to mind, and did not have any recommendations for CBP in its report.
July 13, 2022 – by Eric Weiss