Facial Recognition Technology: CBP verification of travelers’ identities and efforts to resolve privacy issues

brief info

U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses facial recognition technology for identity checks at some border checkpoints. As of July 2022, CBP had deployed this technology at 32 airports for travelers departing the United States and at all airports for travelers entering the country.

We have testified that CBP’s privacy marks – which inform the public about the use of this technology – have not always been current or available where this technology has been used.

Our previous recommendations included that CBP should ensure that its privacy notices are complete and available at locations that use this technology.

Example of cameras and screens used for facial recognition in Port Canaveral harbor

highlights

What GAO found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made progress in testing and deploying facial recognition (FRT) technology at air, sea and land ports of entry to create entry/exit records for aliens as part of its biometric entry/exit program. As of July 2022, CBP has deployed FRT at 32 airports to biometrically verify travelers’ identities upon departure from the United States (flight exit) and at all airports for inbound international travelers.

Face recognition technology in use at an airport

Face recognition technology in use at an airport

In September 2020, GAO reported that CBP had taken steps to incorporate privacy principles into its program, such as: B. The ban on airlines from storing or using photos of travelers for their own purposes. However, CBP had not consistently provided travelers with information about FRT locations. Also, CBP’s privacy shields provided limited information on how travelers could request to opt out of FRT screening and were not always posted. Since then, CBP has ensured that the privacy notices contain complete information and is taking steps to ensure signage is available more consistently, but must complete its efforts to distribute updated signage at locations where FRT is used. In addition, CBP requires its trading partners, such as airlines, to comply with CBP’s data protection requirements and may audit partners to assess compliance. As of May 2020, CBP had only audited one airline partner and had no plan to ensure all partners were audited. In July 2022, CBP reported that it had conducted five5 assessments of its flight partners and three more assessments are ongoing. These are positive steps to ensure air traveler information is protected. However, CBP should also review other partners who have access to personal data, including those in other travel environments, vendors and contractors, contractors and partners at land and sea ports.

CBP evaluated the accuracy and performance of the air exit FRT capabilities through operational testing. Tests found the Air Exit exceeded its accuracy goals, but fell short of a performance goal of capturing 97 percent of traveler photos because the airlines didn’t consistently photograph all travelers. As of July 2022, CBP officials report that they plan to remove this requirement and eliminate the photo capture objective because airline participation in the program is voluntary and CBP does not have staff to oversee the photo capture process at each gate.

Why GAO did this study

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP has the dual task of facilitating legal travel and securing the US borders. In response to federal laws requiring DHS to implement a biographical and biometric record system for aliens entering and exiting the United States. In response, CBP has tracked FRT to verify a traveler’s identity instead of a visual inspection of traveler’s ID documents.

This statement addresses the extent to which CBP has (1) incorporated privacy principles into its use of FRT and (2) evaluated the accuracy and performance of its use of FRT. This statement is based on a September 2020 report (GAO-20-568) and July 2022 updates on actions taken by the CBP to address previous GAO recommendations. For this report, GAO conducted site visits to observe CBP’s use of FRT; checked program documents; and interviewed DHS officials.

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