While exit controls do not exist when leaving U.S. airports, they are coming…in some form. But the Department of Homeland Security’s experimental new Biometric Exit Program may be unconstitutional in its current form.
Mandated by Congress in 1996 and re-affirmed after the 09/11 attacks, the U.S. wants a better system in which to track those who overstay their visas or attempt to leave the USA with false documents. The problem is U.S. airports are simply not set up to do this. Unlike airports in much of the world, the U.S. imposes no exit controls and terminals are often not distinguished by international and domestic travel.
Consequently, the investment required to more closely monitors who leaves the U.S.A. is much more complex than just starting to stamp passports on the way out.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began subjecting passengers to facial recognition scans at five airports. The $1BN pilot program will expand nationwide if successful.
While DHS claims it programs catches visa overstays and prevents identity fraud, many are worried about the bills unconstitutional ramifications. The Georgetown University Law Center has issued a report arguing why the new test program is unlawful. You can read the report in its entirety via the link below.
> Read More: “Not Ready for Takeoff: Face Scans at Airport Departure Gates”
The DHS simply doesn’t have the authority to force anyone to hand over their biometric data. Congress has passed legislation permitting DHS to collect face data from foreign nationals, “but no law directly authorizes DHS to collect the biometrics of Americans at the border,” the report reads.
Additionally, the report argues that mandating face scans is such a huge expansion of the DHS’s authority it should have been scrutinized during a public comment period before implementation, as required by federal law.
That’s not all. The whole program may be fatally flawed. The purpose of the program is to catch people exiting the USA with a false ID. But the DHS is measuring program success “based on how often the system accepts travelers using their true credentials.” The Georgetown reports likens this to “hiring a bouncer without knowing how well he can spot fake ID”.
And even the scans themselves are of questionable authenticity. Per the New York Times:
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 were subject to bias, because the scans often fail to properly identify women and African-Americans.
Rather difficult to catch someone who doesn’t even have a photo on file, isn’t it?
I’m not necessarily opposed to exit checks at U.S. airports, but I do want a system that protects the civil liberties of all travelers, especially U.S. citizens.
Laura Moy, who helped author the Georgetown report, says it best–
They can change their minds on how they use this data at any time, because they haven’t put policies in place that govern how it’s supposed to be used. This invasive system needs more transparency, and homeland security officials need to address the legal and privacy concerns about this system, before they move forward.