Traveling Abroad? Now Your Face Could Be Scanned At Airports

While the government says the plan to keep track of travelers is about security, privacy advocates have reason to believe Americans are the ones facing risks.

Traveler interacts with TSA agents.When you think things couldn't get worse for American travelers concerned with their privacy, the United States government comes up with yet another policy that not only hurts our privacy but goes against the very constitution of the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is planning on expanding a facial scanning program used to keep tabs on foreigners so they may easily track those who overstay their visa. The problem is that this program invades the privacy of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, ABC reports.

The program, which has been in place since 2004, requires that nonimmigrant foreigners submit to biometric identity scans. However, only their fingerprints and photos have been taken at entry so far. In order to implement the program at full capacity, the DHS is ready to take facial scans on departure, capturing images of anyone leaving the country where the system is in place, even American citizens. This, advocates claim, goes against the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

So far, the system has only been put in place in airports in Boston, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, the Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., and in the Kennedy airport in New York City.

If the plan continues to work the way the DHS has planned, the most high-volume U.S. international airports will be fitted with the technology by next year. Unfortunately, privacy advocates say, even if the DHS doesn't “keep” the scans it makes of U.S. residents and citizens, which is what the agency has promised, the plan is a violation of privacy rules.

“Congress authorized scans of foreign nationals. DHS heard that and decided to scan everyone. That's not how a democracy is supposed to work,” Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University told reporters.

To policy analyst Jay Stanley, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. government already exerts “sufficient gravitational pulls in wanting to record and track what masses of individuals are doing.” 

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) has also criticized the DHS plan, saying that U.S. citizens should be able to opt out for as long as the program is in place. Still, the agency is saying that Americans are only allowed to opt out during the trial period.

When analyzing this plan, Tech Dirt's staff warned that “whatever privacy assurances are being given now, expect them to be whittled down in the future, especially if the government continues to engage in reactionary, fear-based lawmaking,” common in the President Donald Trump administration.

In a June 12 document uploaded to the DHS's Customs and Border Protection website, ABC reports, the agency states that “[t]he only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling.”

Whether lawmakers are able to put a hold on this program or make sure that U.S. citizens' data isn't being stored may not make a difference in the long run. After all, privacy advocates claim that the fact the data is being collected to begin with poses a threat to Americans' privacy.

As we know, law enforcement and federal agencies tasked with surveillance responsibilities aren't good at ensuring the data being collected isn't being misused or even abused.

Banner and thumbnail image credit: Danny Moloshok/Reuters

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