With facial recognition cameras, the Customs and Border Protection agency has been scanning the faces of every one of the more than 200,000 people who cross the border each month by foot at San Luis, Az., one of its busiest land crossings, Politico reports. CBP is adapting facial recognition technology first used at airports to two land crossings in Arizona – San Luis and Nogales – as part of a pilot program set to conclude this month. If all goes well with the pilot, CBP plans to begin using facial recognition at other land crossings. The goal is to test whether it’s possible to police borders and airports with technology that’s better than humans at verifying identification. If it works, it could make crossing into and out of the U.S. easier and faster and give CBP a powerful new tool to identify the small minority of border crossers who pose a security threat.
Not everyone is convinced that facial recognition technology is ready for the real world. Some critics say the technology makes mistakes, particularly when trying to read black and brown faces. Also, they say facial recognition poses a real privacy threat because the government could track people without their knowledge or develop portfolios of photographs of citizens, something that far beyond the occasional driver’s license or passport photo the government keeps on file. The American Civil Liberties Union is critical of what it calls “advanced tracking and surveillance technologies” that use biometrics like faces and fingerprints. In response to complaints by privacy advocates, CBP pledged to delete photos it captures of U.S. citizens within 12 hours of confirming their identities. The agency holds on to non-citizens’ photos for up to 14 days before transferring them to a database managed by the Department of Homeland Security. They’ll be stored there for 75 years.