The Government Accountability Office said in a new report that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) component needs to do a better job at informing the public when it uses facial recognition technology (FRT).

CBP uses facial recognition to perform identity checks at U.S. border locations. As of this month, the agency was using the technology at 32 airports for travelers departing the U.S., and at all airports for travelers arriving in the U.S.

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In its report, GAO said that CBP should follow a previous recommendation that tasks the agency with  ensuring that privacy notices are complete and available at the locations where it uses facial recognition technology.

“In September 2020, GAO reported that CBP had taken steps to incorporated privacy principles in its program, such as prohibiting airlines from storing or using travelers’ photos for their own purposes,” wrote GAO. “However, CBP had not consistently provided travelers with information about FRT locations.”

GAO also notes that CBP’s privacy signage had provided limited information for travelers on how they could opt out of FRT screening. Since then, CBP has ensured privacy notices contain complete information and has taken steps to ensure the signage is more consistently available. However, CBP needs to complete efforts to distribute updated signs to FRT locations, the government watchdog agency said.

GAO made five recommendations to CBP in September 2020 on privacy and system performance – the parent agency DHS concurred with those and has implemented two of those recommendations. CBP is making efforts to address the remaining three recommendations related to “current and complete privacy signage, implementing an audit plan for its program partners, and capturing required traveler photos,” GAO said.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.