US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is lobbying for a change to the current rules covering all Americans entering or leaving the United States, in order to “provide that all travelers, including US citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure” from the US, citing the need to identify criminals or “suspected terrorists.”
DHS wants to make airport facial recognition scans mandatory for all US citizens and legal US permanent residents, moving to close an existing loophole that allows Americans to opt out.
While not yet implemented, the rule change is in the “final stages of clearance,” a DHS official said.
Under the existing guidelines, US citizens and other lawful residents have the ability to avoid airport biometric scans and identify themselves by other means. While some travelers have found it difficult to opt out given opaque or inconsistent guidelines from airport to airport, the DHS would apparently like to cut down on the confusion by doing away with the exemption altogether.
The new rule was rejected by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, who said it would only further erode Americans’ privacy and subject them to yet another layer of intrusive government surveillance.
The DHS is currently set to outfit 20 of America’s largest airports with biometric scanners by 2021, despite a flurry of privacy issues and ongoing technical problems. Last year, an internal watchdog report found that the department’s facial recognition tech was not performing up to snuff and “may be unable to meet expectations” by its deadline. The DHS also piqued security concerns last year when it announced it would partner with Amazon for its all-seeing HART system, which will pass highly detailed information on 250 million people to the tech giant for storage.