A pilot program at Washington Dulles airport is using facial-scanning technology to identify outbound foreign visitors who have overstayed their visas in the United States, a group that represents the largest number of people in the country illegally, reports the New York Times. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) believes that if officials can better track who has left the country, they will be able to better assess who has stayed here beyond the legal limit of their visa. The department estimated that 629,000 foreign visitors — just over 1 percent of all travelers — remained in the country in 2016 after overstaying their visas as students, workers or tourists.
John Roth, DHS inspector general, said the number of overstays posed a greater security risk than might be apparent from the relatively small numbers, noting that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers had overstayed their visas. A January executive order by President Trump would require all travelers to the U.S. to provide biometric data on entry and exit from the country. Visitors now provide the data only when they enter the country. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have long viewed a biometric exit system as preferable to paper documents to ensure border security, and technology has now caught up with that preference. The biometric exit system has come under criticism from privacy rights groups who fear an invasive form of surveillance of American citizens.