Sending Office: Honorable Susan Wild
Sent By:
Dorcas.Adekunle@mail.house.gov

Demand Privacy and Accountability from CBP on the use of Facial Recognition on Americans

Deadline Extended June 10th

Current signers- Reps: Joaquin Castro, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anna G. Eshoo, Adriano Espaillat,
Raúl M. Grijalva, Alcee L. Hastings, Ro Khanna, Gwen Moore,
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Jan Schakowsky, Mark Takano,
Rashida Tlaib, Marc Veasey

Dear Colleague:

Please join us in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security- demanding accountability, transparency and public input on the agency’s use of facial recognition technology on U.S. citizens who board certain international flights.

Under current law, CBP is permitted to obtain biographic and biometric information of foreign nationals through the Biometric Exit Program. However, last year, the agency expanded to using facial recognition technology to collect biometric information on
U.S. citizens- an action that has not been authorized by Congress or undergone a rulemaking process.

Reports indicate that Americans have not been granted adequate notice about the program or opt-out procedures. CBP’s use of facial recognition technology in this manner raises serious questions about privacy, transparency, the technology’s accuracy, and
data security.

Strong concerns about this program have gone unaddressed, and we hope that you will join us on this letter to get answers from the Department of Homeland Security. To be added, please email
Dorcas.Adekunle@mail.house.gov in Rep. Susan Wild’s office or  Christina.Mahoney@mail.house.gov with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

Sincerely,

SUSAN WILD                       EMANUEL CLEAVER, II                YVETTE D. CLARKE

—————————————————————

The Honorable Kevin McAleenan
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
United States Department of Homeland Security
300 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20024

Dear Secretary McAleenan:

We write to express concerns about reports that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using facial recognition technology to scan American citizens under the Biometric Exit Program. This is an unprecedented and unauthorized expansion of the agency’s
authority. As such, we urge the agency to allow for public input and establish privacy safeguards.

The Department of Homeland Security’s 2016 “Entry/Exit Overstay Report” states that “the entry/exit mission is to successfully capture and match the arrival and departure records of foreign nationals who visit the United States to help determine who is lawfully
abiding by, or violating, immigration law.”[1] Under current law, CBP is permitted to obtain biographic and biometric information of foreign nationals through the Biometric Exit Program. In 2018, CBP
expanded this pilot program to include facial recognition scans on individuals boarding certain international flights.

Considering that the legal authority which CBP cites to carry out this program expressly limits the collection of biometric data to “foreign nationals,” we were stunned to learn of reports that the agency has partnered with the Transportation Security Administration
and commercial airlines to use facial recognition technology on American citizens. It remains unclear under what authority CBP is carrying out this program on Americans. 

Among the strong concerns that travelers have expressed about this program is the inadequate notice and information that is currently provided to Americans. On the CBP Biometic Exit FAQs website, it states that “CBP does not require U.S. Citizens or exempt
aliens to have their photos taken. U.S. Citizens and exempt aliens who do not wish to participate in this biometric collection should notify a CBP Officer or an airline or airport representative in order to seek an alternative means of verifying their identity
and documents.”[2] This guidance comes too little, too late for most travelers. The random nature of this pilot program does not allow travelers the requisite advanced notice to make an informed decision
on their willingness to participate.

Americans are also troubled about the potential misuse and accuracy of data captured in this facial recognition program, of which they have little control. False matches and algorithmic bias problems in facial recognition technology are well-documented.
A September 2018 DHS Inspector General report noted a “low 85-percent biometric confirmation rate.”[3] The same report stated that U.S. citizens accounted for the lowest biometric confirmation rate and
were up to six times more likely to be rejected than non-U.S. citizens. The report identified that passengers under age 29 or over 70 had lower match rates than other passengers.[4] Moreover, CBP claims
that the success of this program will rely upon airports and airlines purchasing digital cameras. CBP has provided limited guidance on how it would prevent the potential misuse of data by private companies.

Serious issues with the Biometric Exit Program have gone unaddressed. As federal representatives, we believe the American people deserve transparency regarding how their biometric data is being used and stored. We urge you to clearly identify:

1) What laws/statutes give CBP the authority to use facial recognition technology on American citizens in the DHS exit program?

2) What effort has CBP made to provide adequate advanced notice about this program and op-out procedures to travelers?

3) What is the nature of the contracts between CBP, airports and airlines? What legal liability do airport and airlines share under this program?

4) How many audits has CBP conducted to date on CBP’s approved partners to ensure they are immediately purging photos following transmittal to the Traveler Verification Service (TVS) and what were the findings from the audits?

Given the continued false matches and algorithmic bias problems in facial recognition technology and the use of this technology on U.S. citizens, we call on the Department of Homeland Security to allow for public input and address transparency, privacy and
security concerns before expanding this program.

Sincerely,

 

SUSAN WILD                 EMANUEL CLEAVER, II                       YVETTE D. CLARKE

Member of Congress       Member of Congress                              Member of Congress

Related Legislative Issues

Selected legislative information: Immigration, Intelligence, Technology

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