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These Senators Want Homeland Security To "Pause" Its Airport Facial Recognition Program

"American travelers [should] fully understand exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how long their data will be held, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether.”

Posted on March 12, 2019, at 3:33 p.m. ET

Isabel Espanol / BuzzFeed News

On Monday, BuzzFeed News reported that US Customs and Border Protection is rushing to implement its “biometric entry-exit system,” with the goal of using facial recognition technology on “100 percent of all international passengers" in the top 20 US airports by 2021. Today, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey and Republican Sen. Mike Lee released a joint statement calling on DHS to "pause" the program.

"DHS has failed to follow through and appears to be expanding the program," the senators said in a Tuesday statement. "Further, DHS has a statutory requirement to submit a report to Congress detailing the viability of biometric technologies, including privacy implications and accuracy. DHS should pause their efforts until American travelers fully understand exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how long their data will be held, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether.”

This is the third such DHS rebuke from Sens. Markey and Lee, who first asked the agency to halt its use of facial recognition technology in airports in a sharply worded letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen back in December 2017. The following May, the pair urged the DHS to put formal rules into place before the agency's airport biometrics program was expanded.

“Since the Department of Homeland Security began scanning travelers’ faces at U.S. airports, we have repeatedly called on the agency to honor their personal commitment to complete a rulemaking to establish privacy and security rules of the road," the senators wrote, referring to the public notice-and-comment rulemaking process, which requires federal agencies to solicit public feedback before adopting technology intended to be broadly used on civilians.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit research organization Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on Tuesday to determine whether the US government is giving travelers adequate notice that they can opt out of facial recognition at airports.

BREAKING: EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to determine whether the U.S. government is allowing travelers to opt-out of facial recognition at airports. @daveyalba #SunshineWeek https://t.co/iCdVNVGIKr

@EPICprivacy / Via Twitter: @EPICprivacy



  • Picture of Davey Alba

    Davey Alba is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. While working for BuzzFeed News, she won the 2019 Livingston Award for international reporting.

    Contact Davey Alba at davey.alba@buzzfeed.com.

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