Facial recognition is slowly but surely becoming the focal point of the next tug-of-war on privacy as more and more companies and governments are embracing the technology for their own needs. While an effective tool in safeguarding phones and computers, it is also feared to be a more subtle but more intrusive way to monitor people without their knowledge. It is against that backdrop of uncertainty that the US Homeland Security is proposing that face recognition checks in all US airports be done on all travelers, including the country’s own citizens.
The US is already performing such face checks at airports, just not at the large scale and 100% coverage that the government wants it to be. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to fully roll out such scanners in the country’s 20 largest airports before it hits the 2021 deadline it was given. It’s a rather herculean task given how many technical problems it has run into and yet it is now stirring the hornet’s nest by proposing new and more expansive rules.
The current rules exempt US citizens and green card holders from such checks. Under the new rules that the DHS is proposing, however, no one would be able to opt-out of the checks both when entering and even when leaving the country. The latter was intended to catch foreigners overstaying their visas but makes less sense for US citizens.
Unsurprisingly, civil rights groups are up in arms about the proposal. The US government gave its promise to Congress that it would not include its own citizens on mandatory checks but is now changing its stance on the matter. That, of course, is going to raise concerns about where the government will use that facial data outside of their travel context.
And then there’s the worry that such data can be hacked and stolen by malicious agents, both at home and abroad. There has already been a precedent this year that proves privacy advocates’ point. The new rules, however, are still under proposal and could face tough opposition, especially considering the current political climate in the country.