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United States Privacy

Facial Scans at US Airports Violate Americans' Privacy, Report Says (nytimes.com) 137

Ron Nixon, writing for The New York Times: A new report concludes that a Department of Homeland Security pilot program improperly gathers data on Americans when it requires passengers embarking on foreign flights to undergo facial recognition scans to ensure they haven't overstayed visas. The report, released on Thursday by researchers at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University's law school, called the system an invasive surveillance tool that the department has installed at nearly a dozen airports without going through a required federal rule-making process. The report's authors examined dozens of Department of Homeland Security documents and raised questions about the accuracy of facial recognition scans. They said the technology had high error rates and are subject to bias, because the scans often fail to properly identify women and African-Americans. "It's telling that D.H.S. cannot identify a single benefit actually resulting from airport face scans at the departure gate," said Harrison Rudolph, an associate at the center and one of the report's co-authors. "D.H.S. doesn't need a face-scanning system to catch travelers without a photo on file. It's alarming that D.H.S. still hasn't supplied evidence for the necessity of this $1 billion program," he added.
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Facial Scans at US Airports Violate Americans' Privacy, Report Says

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  • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Thursday December 21, 2017 @11:52AM (#55783791) Homepage
    Researchers at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University's law school made this claim. Not the Supreme Court, which has granted great leeway to what customs can do at the borders. It's a legal opinion paper that is just that, opinion, with no legal standing.
    • Researchers at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University's law school made this claim. Not the Supreme Court, which has granted great leeway to what customs can do at the borders. It's a legal opinion paper that is just that, opinion, with no legal standing.

      Honestly, I think facial scanning is less of a privacy violation than cupping my testicles because the airport scanner got a distortion on my shoulder when I passed through it the last time.

  • Security theatre (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 21, 2017 @11:54AM (#55783815)

    Has NEVER required evidence for the necessity. Why should this be any different?

  • Airport security only applies to those of us who fly commercial. When is the last time the top critters in our government flew commercial? Some of them might never have. When you can charter your own aircraft you don't have to go through security, you go straight to the airplane cabin door. Same deal with government aircraft. These people get treatment that is better than the best we can buy, and they have no reason to care about what the rest of us go through.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      uh, no, I fly for the air force. We waste a lot of time with security theater too. Same guy carrying weapons on this leg now nneeds to go through security on the next leg on the same airplane on his way home. It's stupid.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Airport security only applies to those of us who fly commercial. When is the last time the top critters in our government flew commercial?

      The Obama administration. Does seem like a long time ago, though.

    • It could be a class thing. Or maybe there's just no risk in a rich person taking himself hostage on his own aircraft.

  • Goat Rope (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They can build a $1 billion program to catch people leaving late, but cannot do a single thing to keep people out. Besides, what's the penalty if they're on a flight home one day past their visa? Throw them in jail and then send them home?

    • but cannot do a single thing to keep people out.

      Actually, ICE is catching more illegal immigrants within 100 miles of the border since Trump was elected, although total deportations are down.

      Besides, what's the penalty if they're on a flight home one day past their visa?

      The penalty for overstaying a visa is that you will have a harder time getting another visa in the future.

      Disclaimer: I think immigration is good for America, and I wish we had more of it.

  • Overstaying visas? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Thursday December 21, 2017 @12:04PM (#55783895) Journal

    it requires passengers embarking on foreign flights to undergo facial recognition scans to ensure they haven't overstayed visas.

    Okay, maybe I’m missing something...

    So if I’m visiting the US and I overstay my visa. Now I’m getting on an airplane to leave the country and they want to make sure that I didn’t overstay?

    Hello? I’m leaving...

    What, you’re going to arrest me for overstaying my visa while I’m leaving? And you’re going to spend a billion dollars to catch me as I do just what you want me to do—leave!

    Really? My tax dollars at work...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      PROTIP: It's an excuse to spy on American citizens

      • PROTIP: It's an excuse to spy on American citizens

        I'm sorry, but what are you smoking? You're going through TSA processing and you've already shown your ID, so they know you're leaving. The airline has forwarded your data to DHS already, and they've gathered your passport data. Exactly what new information is this system providing regarding your departure?

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Don't forget simple greed. Cost 1,000 million dollars, now how much of that is profit, half. Forget security or spying on Americans, apparently it doesn't work but some pack of greedy fuckers are shoving what, 5 hundred million dollars in their pocket and laughing all the way to their tax haven to hide that money. Never, ever forget simple greed, no grand conspiracy required, just a scam to steal a billion dollars. Just look at the F35 Flying Pig, the baconator express, all about pork for the military indus

    • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Thursday December 21, 2017 @12:11PM (#55783969)

      Just so that they can spend more money to detain you, give you a trial, make you serve a prison sentence for overstaying your visa, and then send you home at taxpayer expense. All instead of just letting you leave on your own.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Easy - they put you on the "You can't come back" list.

      No tinfoil needed.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 21, 2017 @12:23PM (#55784047)

      You can thank the nytimes for providing absolutely NOTHING of value to this story.

      For a more detailed explanation try here https://gizmodo.com/homeland-securitys-airport-facial-scans-are-buggy-and-p-1821496186

      Seems the point is to catch people leaving who 'pretend' to be the offender (who has over stayed their visa) by using the offender's passport when they depart. The scam works like this: Person A overstays their visa, they give their passport to person B who flies out of the country using it. Now the electronic records show that Person A has left the country, when in fact they haven't.

      At least the plan on paper. But really, there are soooo many holes in this scheme it's like a Wile E Coyote story line.

      • Seems plausible, but if true it exposes an even worse problem - how easy it is for someone to book and board a flight (let alone international) with documents belonging to someone else. If this is prevalent enough that an illegal immigrant can afford it, doesn't that make the no-fly list ineffective?

        Even worse, a 2 for 1 - one of these passport offenders could give their documents and facilitate someone who is on the no-fly list.

        • how easy it is for someone to book and board a flight (let alone international) with documents belonging to someone else.

          Not hard to book one. Trivial, even, if you're in cahoots with them. If you look similar, you can probably make it through security as them, too.

          If this is prevalent enough that an illegal immigrant can afford it,

          Afford what? A return flight? If they're on a short visa, they probably already have that booked. If not, a few hundred dollars to some non-US destination (like Canada, eh?).

          Even worse, a 2 for 1 - one of these passport offenders could give their documents and facilitate someone who is on the no-fly list.

          Sounds like you've just given the perfect reason for facial recognition -- to pick up what the TSA guy might have missed.

          • I meant afford the illegal services. The plane ticket is probably the easier part, compared to finding someone who looks like them, and is willing to fly out and risk an anomaly on their own passport.

            • compared to finding someone who looks like them

              Friends and family are cheap. Maybe even free.

              and is willing to fly out and risk an anomaly on their own passport.

              I'm sorry, but using someone else's passport doesn't create an anomaly on your own. You don't show both of them on the way out. And you aren't showing the other guy's when you come back. You're just another returning citizen at that point.

      • This made me curious about how they tell that visa holders actually leave the country, and I ended up on this page: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/i-94-instructions [cbp.gov].

        Seems like they could spend a lot less than a billion dollars and just provide a document scanner to the person who looks at your photo id and boarding pass on the way in to airport security. The scanner could do OCR on the ID, confirm the validity of the boarding pass, and prompt the TSA employee to request a passport for sc
        • The scanner could do OCR on the ID, ...

          And lots more for the TSA agent to do to make the security theater line even slower...

          And then the guy who wants to overstay just walks out the exit after his "official departure" has been logged by TSA and is never seen again.

          Or, if you think the airline would report his no-show at boarding to someone, he gets a friend with a US passport to use his boarding pass to take the flight. Now it is irrefutable that he's gone.

          and US citizens departing to a country that requires a passport for entry).

          I suppose if we're getting Mexico to pay for the wall, we can get every other country o

          • I think the friend would have to be someone who wasn't coming back, because otherwise the no-show on the flight that got the friend past security would be an issue that person would have to resolve when trying to come back. But, you've convinced me. Clearly we should spend a billion dollars on poorly performing facial recognition.
            • I think the friend would have to be someone who wasn't coming back, because otherwise the no-show on the flight that got the friend past security would be an issue that person would have to resolve when trying to come back.

              What "resolve"? "I decided not to go." It's not a crime not to take a flight that you've checked in on. The airline may get pissy about applying the money for that flight to something else, but that's why you get a really cheap flight.

              You don't think any airline would actually deny someone who didn't make one flight the ability to fly ever again on that airline, do you? No, sorry, they'll happily take your money to fly you from London to Chicago even if you skip out on half a dozen flights from Chicago to

              • I think the friend would have to be someone who wasn't coming back, because otherwise the no-show on the flight that got the friend past security would be an issue that person would have to resolve when trying to come back.

                What "resolve"? "I decided not to go." It's not a crime not to take a flight that you've checked in on. The airline may get pissy about applying the money for that flight to something else, but that's why you get a really cheap flight.

                You don't think any airline would actually deny someone who didn't make one flight the ability to fly ever again on that airline, do you? No, sorry, they'll happily take your money to fly you from London to Chicago even if you skip out on half a dozen flights from Chicago to Indianapolis. If you do find such a moronic airline, then use a different airline to fly back. Delta will take customers United doesn't want all day long.

                You had suggested that the friend would be taking the flight to the other country. Coming back from someplace they weren't recorded as going to after the recorded no-show on the flight that got them past security and no other record of their departure from the country would be hard to explain to US Customs/Immigration on the way back in. They could tell some story that starts with "I changed my mind and decided to go to Venezuela by boat.." But, I don't think it'd be an easy sell.

                • You had suggested that the friend would be taking the flight to the other country.

                  Yes.

                  and no other record of their departure from the country would be hard to explain to US Customs/Immigration on the way back in.

                  You can leave the country without a record of it here. That's how lax the US exit process is.

                  They could tell some story that starts with "I changed my mind

                  They don't have to tell any ICE agent on the way back in that they "changed their mind". ICE isn't going to care that someone missed a domestic flight. It's ridiculous to think they would.

                  and decided to go to Venezuela by boat

                  Canada and Mexico are a lot closer, and a lot of US citizens go to either or both every year.

                  • You had suggested that the friend would be taking the flight to the other country.

                    Yes.

                    and no other record of their departure from the country would be hard to explain to US Customs/Immigration on the way back in.

                    You can leave the country without a record of it here. That's how lax the US exit process is.

                    If you go back to the start of this discussion, you'll see that that's what I had suggested changing,

                    They could tell some story that starts with "I changed my mind

                    They don't have to tell any ICE agent on the way back in that they "changed their mind". ICE isn't going to care that someone missed a domestic flight. It's ridiculous to think they would.

                    and decided to go to Venezuela by boat

                    Canada and Mexico are a lot closer, and a lot of US citizens go to either or both every year.

                    Yes, but they have information sharing agreements with the US government.

                    • If you go back to the start of this discussion, you'll see that that's what I had suggested changing,

                      You can suggest changing it, but the fact is how it is now. If you're talking about the enhanced role of TSA as being immigration and passport control for other countries, I think I've already dealt with that. It's not going to happen. TSA is not immigration and customs enforcement, not even for our own country.

                      Yes, but they have information sharing agreements with the US government.

                      Share the information that doesn't exist. The US doesn't keep track of who leaves. When you come back, they don't know how you left. The fact they don't know how you left isn't proof of a crime, it

      • You can thank the nytimes for providing absolutely NOTHING of value to this story.

        This is juvenile. I like Gizmodo's Adam and David example, but all of their quotes are right out of the report itself aside from this one.
        "As one of the report’s co-authors told The New York Times,"

        The NYT article goes further than internet searches for background info.
        "John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner for field operations at Customs and Border Protection, said ..."
        "Laura Moy, who helped write the report, said ..."
        "But Senators Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Mike

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      YES! As a US citizen I absolutely want to know if you over stayed a visa, even if we are catching you on the way home!

      Its solid grounds for NOT extending another visa to you!

    • No, but the next time you apply for a visa, it may get denied. Although I suspect, as others have more eloquently pointed out, that there is a more nefarious purpose. Historically we haven't worried very much about overstays.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re "Now I’m getting on an airplane to leave the country and they want to make sure that I didn’t overstay?"
      After committing any number of crimes..
      If a person over stayed once what will stop them for just getting another set of documents and trying to re enter the USA?
      Leaving for a short holiday and then back to the USA illegally for decades?
      That person who stayed in the USA illegally can then be documented and never allowed back into the USA. Other nations can be warned by the USA of that
  • Eyeroll (Score:4, Funny)

    by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday December 21, 2017 @12:16PM (#55784011)

    It's telling that D.H.S. cannot identify a single benefit actually resulting from airport face scans at the departure gate

    As if benefit analysis was EVER a consideration for DHS or TSA... I would love to see the benefit analysis of confiscating people's nail clippers from carry on luggage.

    • As if benefit analysis was EVER a consideration for DHS or TSA... I would love to see the benefit analysis of confiscating people's nail clippers from carry on luggage.

      Not funny ... True.

  • Sure it is invasive, but that by itself does not make it illegal. Not even the fact that it is useless.
    And if it is illegal today, I bet it will be legal tomorrow.
    Law and morality are not the same.

    • Sure it is invasive,

      How is it invasive? It's not looking under your clothes like millimeter waves do. It's not scanning your body for ferrous metal. You don't have to stop or produce documents or anything.

      All you have to do is have your face out where it can be seen, like almost everyone already does. Heck, you have to have your face out to show the TSA security line checker anyway, because he's busy comparing your id to your face.

      The airlines have already sent your data to DHS, and you're ticket data is scanned going throug

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      How is it illegal? Nobody was forced to travel to the USA and overstay?
      A person entered the USA with a set time to work, study or enjoy the USA. With very clear and simple set conditions.
      They became illegal when they failed to return to their own nation after a set time. A time as they said they fully understood as part of been granted a set time to be in the USA.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 21, 2017 @12:33PM (#55784113)

    "D.H.S. doesn't need a face-scanning system to catch travelers without a photo on file. It's alarming that D.H.S. still hasn't supplied evidence for the necessity of this $1 billion program," he added.

    Private companies got $1 billion in revenue.

    This is America. What greater necessity could there be than a company making money?

  • .... I don't really think that it is something that anyone has any sort of inviolable right to when they are in a public place. I don't personally go around poking my nose into other people's business because I value my own privacy, and treat others as I would like to be treated, but not everyone abides by such premises, and I'd be foolish to expect that the world around me would somehow be obliged to cater to my own values, no matter how righteous I may believe them to be. If I want privacy, I will take

    • Except, who cares if they overstayed, they're leaving! Worry about it when they try to come back!

      • Except, who cares if they overstayed, they're leaving! Worry about it when they try to come back!

        If you don't catch them overstaying, how can you worry about it when they come back? Pray tell, how do you know that Achmed overstayed his visa the last time he was here when he's standing in front of you as an ICE officer now, unless you caught him doing it last time and put it in his record? How does the embassy issuing the visa know that THIS time they shouldn't issue Achmed the visa because last time he cheated, unless he was caught cheating last time?

        • From the flight records. You don't need to catch them in the act... and even if you catch it the moment they book the ticket, it doesn't matter, you want them to leave.

          And if someone wanted to leave without a paper trail, anyone can just walk out to Canada or Mexico. Niagara Falls and Tijuana come to mind.

          • From the flight records.

            They didn't fly. They took a different route out. On time, before the visa expired.

            and even if you catch it the moment they book the ticket, it doesn't matter, you want them to leave.

            Of course it matters. You want them to have already left, and you don't want them to come back. You can't do the latter if you didn't catch them failing to leave on time. What if they don't book the ticket? If they're doing something illegal, why would they do the booking? They're going to try to slip out as someone else. With someone else's paperwork. But their own face.

            And if someone wanted to leave without a paper trail, anyone can just walk out to Canada or Mexico.

            Yeah, so your flippant "flight records" solution is alr

            • I'm simultaneously poking two holes in the plan. One being that the people choosing to fly out on an expired visa can be data mined from a flight database without needing to be caught in the act. The other being that it is simpler, less risky* and far less illegal to walk out of the country and into another one, with a fresh visa, and then fly home. There would be no proof whatsoever of visa overstay. This scanner program is trying to catch a complex Visa scam while a far simpler (and likely more effect

              • One being that the people choosing to fly out on an expired visa can be data mined from a flight database without needing to be caught in the act.

                That assumes they are flying using their own, expired paperwork.

                The other being that it is simpler, less risky* and far less illegal to walk out of the country and into another one,

                It is much harder to do that than to simply try to fly home.

                Gosh, we won't catch all the criminals with this facial recognition stuff. I guess we shouldn't even try. We won't catch all of any kind of criminal, so I guess we shouldn't even try. That does make life much simpler for everyone, even the criminals.

              • by mark-t ( 151149 )
                Given the risks of walking out that you mentioned (which if you had not pointed out yourself, I would have), I think saying that it's less risky than flying out is a lot like saying that cyanide has less calories than arsenic.
        • Why don't they keep track of visa guests, so they know when they leave? They could compare lists of people leaving the country and comparing it with the list of people on visas.
    • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

      .... I don't really think that it is something that anyone has any sort of inviolable right to when they are in a public place.

      I'd generally agree however I also don't think anyone has the right to constantly monitor us in public places, because there will come a time when it really is constant monitoring. There needs to be some limits.

  • How is this (albeit malfunctioning) technology any different than a cop standing at the airport, scanning the crowd with his eyes?
    • by DaveyJJ ( 1198633 ) on Thursday December 21, 2017 @01:49PM (#55784715) Homepage

      Well, first off, there's the fact that research done by visual researchers reveals that that human forgets faces not of his/her ethnicity significantly faster their own ethnicity. Your memory of a face in a crowd declines in under 10 seconds, and happens even faster than that when you're glancing at someone who doesn't look like you. Crowds are also very confusing because of other visual factors that are similar in what you're looking at and distract ... movement, colours, clothing, shapes, etc.

      Second, people have an utterly terrible memory for faces, and one's cognitive ability runs across a wide spectrum. Unless there is a mark or deformity that is significant, people are generally poor with faces, especially ones in a crowd. And while it's unlikely that someone with a condition like prosopagnosia is going into law enforcement, it still means that about 2% of the population is hopelessly "blind" when it comes to recognizing people's faces. Additional research shows, in experiments we can replicate, that even close family members, if their appearance is slightly altered, are missed in a crowd to a significant degree when scanning faces in a crowd.

      Third, it takes on average 2.5 seconds for the average human to look at and recognize a face. Sometimes as long as 5 seconds. How do you imagine that you could have enough security personal around to scan the thousands of people who move through crowded public spaces like airports, train stations etc every minute or two?

      I've been in the same room as two police detectives trying to get accurate descriptions of criminals one time, and the variations of what the guys supposedly looked like from one interviewee to the next was amazing to hear. There is no way a human scanning a crowd is going to do anywhere near as good a job at facial recognition than decent software that stores potentially millions of faces (note that accuracy is debatable, and is still pretty hard to get right with most of these systems). I think the problem here are the questions around who has this data, how is it being used that you're not being told about, how long is it kept, who is it being shared with, and what is the measurement of it's success (besides a few companies making 100s of millions of dollars). A better system takes into account different physiological aspects of you ... height, weight, appendage movements, stride type and length, etc. But I have no clue whether or not it's legal, though.

  • The ostensible reason for the scans is " to undergo facial recognition scans to ensure they haven't overstayed visas." Really, if a person is leaving, who cares at that point if they over-stayed. The good news is that they are leaving! Therefore, since they are scanning everyone, could it be that the real reason is something that they do not wish to admit.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Re "who cares at that point if they over-stayed"
      So that they can never return to the USA legally again.
      They might be on a holiday and think they can just reenter the USA again.
      The point is to legally document their crime and return them to their own nation.
      No getting back into the USA again. The USA can then provide that persons details to many other nations and warn them about that persons crime.
      That person knew they had to return to their own nation after a set time. They understood they did not ge
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