Once reserved to the imaginations of science fiction novel and screenplay writers, facial recognition technology is now an increasingly common part of law enforcement toolkits across the globe. Police in Britain, Germany, China, and elsewhere have used or tested facial recognition technology. In the United States, about half of American adults are in a law enforcement facial recognition network. The facial images included in these databases do contain mugshots, but they also include photos collected by some state DMVs that are shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
DHS is planning to deploy more facial scanners at airports across the country, but as a new study from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology shows, plans to expand facial scanning at airports raise serious efficacy and privacy concerns.
Biometric collection at airports in nothing new. In the wake of 9/11 Congress passed a range of legislation mandating the implementation of a biometric entry‐exit system. However, Congress has not explicitly authorized the collection of Americans’ biometrics at the border or ports of entry. As the Georgetown paper points out, DHS collecting Americans’ biometrics without going through the required rulemaking process puts airport facial scans on unstable legal ground.
As if the questionable legality of the facial scanners being used on Americans wasn’t concerning enough, there are issues associated with efficacy. While TV shows such as CSI may lead people to think that facial scanning is exact, the technology is far from perfect.
A privacy impact assessment for DHS’ facial scanning program states, “CBP requires an accuracy goal of 96% [true acceptance rate] for facial images acquired in an airport/seaport exit environment.” But a system that is very good at identifying people who are not lying about who they are is hardly all that a airport security system needs to do. A good identify verification scheme will find those people (such as visa overstays) who are lying about their identity. Yet DHS has yet to measure how effective its facial scanning system is at catching those pretending to be someone they’re not.
Georgetown’s researchers explain: