The Border Patrol Plans To Install Facial Recognition At Every Airport



How does the U.S. know a visa holder has left the country?

There’s no simple way to know for sure, and with Trump’s attempt to throw out every immigrant he can find regardless of the legality of the situation, it’s a top priority for the Border Patrol.

So they’re forging ahead with facial recognition technology, despite the fact it doesn’t work.

The Verge has a detailed look at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) plan to install facial recognition systems for “biometric exit,” essentially a way to quickly confirm a visa holder has, in fact, left the U.S. Currently in use on a single flight between Atlanta and Tokyo, this will, in theory, let CBP figure out who’s “overstaying.” It’s worth noting this is a fairly small number; slightly less than half a million, at last count, out of 45 million visas issued. Facial recognition was chosen in part because the U.S. already has an enormous database of photos to scan that it doesn’t have to ask permission or have travelers sign a release to use.

The problems with this system may not be worth finding those half million, however. First of all, as the Verge’s analysis notes, once this system is built, there may not be legal standing to deny access to law enforcement. Larry Panetta, who’s handling the project, idly mentioned (at an expo last week) allowing airlines access to the system to determine who gets into those fancy lounges. That raises serious legal questions; if the FBI can scan your face the minute you enter an airport, does that constitute a legal search? Will data on innocent citizens’ comings and goings be kept, or deleted? How will this data be used?

That’s a particularly pressing concern because facial recognition systems are, at best, flawed. Last June, the Government Accountability Office criticized the FBI for failing to test the accuracy of its system or to verify the accuracy of the state-level databases it uses. The software has to “learn” faces, and researchers have found that facial recognition systems drop precipitously in accuracy when they deal with women, people of color, or really anybody who isn’t a fortyish white man. It’s not clear whether the vendors providing software and equipment are attempting to correct for these problems, but it’s worth remembering that government will insist on using a technology proven not to work.

So why is the CBP forging ahead? Trump has issued multiple executive orders expediting use of the technology.
In fact, both Muslim bans Trump issued contained language demanding this. So, these systems may soon face their largest test yet, well before they’re ready.