The US government may make it mandatory for all travelers, including US citizens, to submit to a facial scan when traveling through an airport.Current regulations can exempt US citizens from the facial scans on exit and entry into the country. But last month, the Department of Homeland Security proposed amending the rule to include US citizens with seemingly no way to opt out.
According to the posting, the rule change promises to help federal agents better identify suspected criminals and terrorists. Specifically, the agency points to the fraudulent use of legitimate US travel documents.However, the proposed rule change has the American Civil Liberties Union alarmed. "Travelers, including US citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel," said ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley in a statement.
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The facial scans from DHS have already been rolling out across more than a dozen US airports. Part of the goal has been to identify people who overstay their visas in the country. The technology works by snapping your photo at the airport and comparing it to existing images DHS already has on. This can include the headshot in your passport, a picture attached to a visa, and photos submitted with other travel documents.
In recent years, DHS says the technology has helped officials identify hundreds to thousands of people who've been residing illegally in the country. But the same technology has sparked concerns about privacy, surveillance, and if the government is collecting too much sensitive data from millions of everyday travelers."Time and again, the government told the public and members of Congress that US citizens would not be required to submit to this intrusive surveillance technology as a condition of traveling," Stanley added. "This new notice suggests that the government is reneging on what was already an insufficient promise."
Another potential problem is securing the data. Earlier this year, hackers managed to steal photos and license plate images of cars from US Customs and Border Protection by infiltrating a third-party subcontractor.
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DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed rule change. But the government has an FAQ page about the facial scanning practice, which says all photos of US citizens collected from the process are discarded within 12 hours of identity verification.That all said, most US citizens are probably unaware that they can decline a facial scan through the existing rule. As the privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, it's up to the traveler to tell either a customs official or the airline employee they'd like to opt out of the process. "For those who can opt out, you'll need to spot the surveillance when it's happening," the group said back in April. "Once you're at the airport, be on the lookout for any time a TSA, CBP, or airline employee asks you to look into a device."