CBP facial recognition scanners failed to find a single impostor at airports in 2020

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A woman traveling to Copenhagen from Dulles International Airport undergoes a VeriScan check in September 2018.

A woman traveling to Copenhagen from Dulles International Airport undergoes a VeriScan check in September 2018.
Photo: Jim Watson / AFP (Getty Images)

Customs and border protection used facial recognition tools to scan the faces of more than 23 million travelers at more than 30 points of entry in 2020, and failed to find a single example of an individual pretending to be someone else at an airport, for example Wednesday report by OneZero.

The agency disclosed the statistics in its Annual Report for fiscal year 2020 (October 2019 to September 2020) published this month. Entry points included airports, seaports and crosswalks. CBP facial recognition failed to flag a single impostor attempting to enter the country via an airport and managed to detect fewer than 100 imposters at crosswalks. This would seem to suggest that either there are very few impostors using fake credentials to enter the United States or that the CBP system is very inefficient in finding them.

As OneZero noted, Congress first asked the United States Attorney General to put in place a system to track foreign citizens entering and exiting the United States. in 1996, and the PATRIOT Act of 2001 expanded the requirement to include biometric signifiers such as fingerprints, iris scans or facial recognition. CBP launched its initiative to use facial recognition scanners as part of this program in 2013.

As of 2018, according to public CBP documents, the agency has identified only seven air travelers as impostors via facial recognition, and only 285 at land crossings. In its report, CBP noted that it has managed to increase the number of faces it scans despite the overall passenger volume for all modes of transport falling by 42% (54.2% for airports alone) during the coronavirus pandemic. CBP issued an optimistic note about the technology:

Despite the overall decrease in travel, biometric processing has increased significantly. CBP biometrically processed over 23 million travelers using biometric facial match technology at entry, exit and preclearance points with a match rate of over 97% in FY2020 CBP sees biometric technology as the way of the future, a way to achieve faster processing times for travelers and a continuation of the facilitation improvements the agency has achieved through other technologies and CBP Trusted Traveler programs.

CBP is part of the Department of Homeland Security. EDS was budgeted $ 62 billion in fiscal year 2020 (actually spending $ 92 billion due to coronavirus-related disaster funds disbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency). CBP spent approximately $ 16.67 billion over the same period. The biometric entry-exit program is funded by the collection of fees on certain types of visas, with Congress allocating around $ 1 billion in spending over the 10-year period starting in 2016. Coupled with others inflated CBP financing, this amounts to a massive expenditure of resources that could be directed elsewhere in the midst of a pandemic.

Facial recognition has become more and more frequent at airports across the country, where it is touted as improving the effectiveness and efficiency of security checks. However, the technology To summer Many times show present various types of racial and gender bias even when it works, which often does not. It is often difficult to know what types of privacy protections exist for travelers, and what protections exist vary between airports and airlines.

DHS Inspector General published a report in September 2020, warning that DHS’s biometric database of more than 250 million people may not be secure; the report also pointed out that CBP failed to protect 184,000 face scans from a data breach in 2018). CBP responded by blaming a subcontractor who “ignored the terms of their contract and normal ethical business principles.” A report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology released in 2017 argued that DHS did not legal authority to collect such scans from U.S. citizens in the first place, and that its implementation of facial recognition is riddled with technical errors, is evaluated using bogus metrics, and raises serious privacy concerns.

In a separate report release in September 2020, the Government Accountability Office identified many problems with CBP’s facial recognition program, including signs advising travelers that their faces could be scanned and that CBP actively discourages passengers from withdrawing. GAO also found that CBP did not stay current with the accuracy of its facial scans; CBP only checks scans of two flights per airport per week and it takes up to weeks to detect problems.


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