Facial recognition technology is currently being used at the border in Texas — but concerns about its flaws are rising.
Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology at the Border
Facial recognition, a form of biometric technology, is being used by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Brownsville and Progreso Ports of Entry in Texas. Biometric technology software identifies individuals using their fingerprints, voices, eyes, and faces. This technology is being used at the border to compare surveillance photos taken at the ports of entry to passport and ID photos within government records. While this may seem simple enough, concerns about the ethics and accuracy of the technology are rising.
One of the most dangerous flaws of facial recognition technology is that it is disproportionately inaccurate when used to identify POC, transgender and nonbinary individuals, and women. A 2018 study conducted by MIT found that “the error rates for gender classification were consistently higher for females than they were for males, and for darker-skinned subjects than for lighter-skinned subjects,” with identification of darker-skinned women having an error rate of up to 46.5% — 46.8% across numerous softwares. This basically means that 50 percent of the time, facial recognition software will misidentify these women. These extremely high error rates show that facial recognition technology is unreliable, and could cause people to undergo unnecessary secondary inspections, unfounded suspicion, and even harassment at the ports of entry.
There’s not only that; because facial recognition technology is still relatively new, the US does not have comprehensive laws regulating its use, making it easier for the technology to be abused. Without regulation, the government is not required to be transparent about how they use facial recognition technology. The lack of information regarding how the technology is used makes it unclear how and for how long the government stores this information. In addition, questions and concerns over the constitutionality of biometric technology have recently been brought to light, with some pointing out that its use could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
While the Customs and Border Protection claims that travelers have the option to opt-out of these photographs, ACLU claims that travelers who choose to opt-out face harassment by agents, secondary inspections, and questioning, with some travelers even having their requests denied because they did not inform the agents that they will be opting out before reaching the kiosks.
Because of inaccurate results and concerns over privacy, it’s understandable that travelers may choose to not participate in facial recognition — but doing so may lead to questioning and harassment. Facial recognition at the border is a lose-lose situation, no matter what the travelers choose to do.