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Face Recognition Technology: CBP Traveler Identity Verification and Privacy Issues

Fast facts

The US Customs and Border Protection uses facial recognition technology to verify identities at some border locations. As of July 2022, CBP had deployed this technology to 32 airports for travelers leaving the United States and all airports for travelers entering the United States.

CBP’s privacy signs, which inform the public about the use of this technology, testify that it is not always up-to-date or available where this technology was used.

Previous recommendations included making CBP a complete privacy notice and available wherever this technology is used.

Examples of cameras and display screens used for face recognition at Port Canaveral

Face recognition sign on a pole in a roped area with a camera in the background


What GAO found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tests and deploys facial recognition technology (FRT) at air, sea, and land immigration ports to create immigration records for foreigners as part of a biometric immigration program. I have advanced. As of July 2022, CBP has deployed FRTs at 32 airports, biometrically verifying the identities of travelers departing the United States (air exits) and arriving international travelers at all airports. increase.

Face recognition technology used at airports

Face recognition technology used at airports

In September 2020, GAO reported that CBP took steps to incorporate privacy principles into its programs, including prohibiting airlines from storing or using tourist photos for their own purposes. However, CBP did not consistently provide travelers with information about the location of the FRT. Also, CBP’s privacy signs provided limited information on how travelers could request an opt-out for FRT screening and were not always posted. Since then, CBP has confirmed that the privacy notice contains complete information and has taken steps to make the signs more consistently available, but has been updated to where FRT is used. Efforts to distribute the signs must be completed. In addition, CBP requires commercial partners, such as airlines, to comply with CBP’s privacy requirements and can audit partners to assess compliance. As of May 2020, CBP was auditing only one airline partner and had no plans to ensure that all partners were audited. In July 2022, CBP reported that it had conducted five assessments and three more assessments for its aviation partners. These are positive steps to ensure the protection of air traveller’s information. However, CBP should also audit other partners who have access to personally identifiable information. This includes other travel environments, vendors, contractors, and land and sea port of entry partners.

CBP evaluated the accuracy and performance of the air outlet FRT function through operational testing. Tests showed that the airline did not consistently capture all travelers, so the air outlet exceeded the accuracy target, but failed to meet the performance goal of capturing 97% of the traveler’s photos. .. As of July 2022, CBP authorities have voluntarily participated in the program and this requirement to remove the photography target as CBP does not have staff to monitor the photography process at all gates. It reports that it plans to remove.

Why GAO conducted this survey

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP has a dual mission to promote legitimate travel and secure US borders. In response to federal law requiring DHS to implement biographical and biometric data systems for foreigners entering and exiting the United States, CBP will verify the identity of travelers instead of visual inspection of travel identification documents. I have been pursuing FRT for this purpose.

This statement corresponds to the extent to which CBP has evaluated (1) privacy principles and (2) accuracy and performance of FRT use. This statement is based on the September 2020 report (GAO-20-568) and an update as of July 2022 on the steps taken by CBP to address previous GAO recommendations. For that report, GAO conducted a site visit to observe the use of FRT by CBP. Review of program documents. Then I interviewed DHS staff.