US-UK Talks May Point Toward Biometric Airport Screening in Britain

High-level discussions between US and UK government authorities may point toward the rise of biometric border screening the latter as such efforts continue to intensify in America.

The roundtable discussion was held between Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen and Amber Rudd, the UK’s Home Secretary, as well as leaders from the aviation industry. Commenting on the talks in a statement, Nielsen said she is “grateful for the close collaboration with our UK partners, air cargo, airline and airport leaders in raising the global bar for aviation security.” While Nielsen did not name the specific means with which the partners had improved security, her comments come shortly after the US Customs and Border Protection Agency received criticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation over its collaborative work with private sector partners in implementing biometric airport screening in America, with the EFF arguing that the CBP was relying too much on its partners to handle the sensitive data of citizens. In emphasizing the roles of “air cargo, airline and airport leaders” in improving security, Nielsen both gestures toward these biometric border control deployments and insists upon the importance of private sector collaboration.

So far, the CBP’s efforts in America, which revolve around bringing facial recognition technologies to airports, have proven more intensive than any new border security programs in the UK. But Nielsen went on to assert that her discussion with the Rudd and the industry leaders “was productive,  and it laid the foundations for future engagement to counter emerging threats.” That may point to a growing interest in bringing CBP-style biometric airport screening to the UK.

If so, it may not happen with the speed with which the CBP’s program has moved forward. Last summer, the UK’s National DNA Database Ethic Group, a public agency mandated to advise the Home Office, was renamed the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group, and given an expanded mandate to explore the ethical implications of government use of biometric technology — a government watchdog group that has no direct equivalent in the US regulatory landscape.

March 5, 2018 – by Alex Perala