The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operation has pulled its support for a mandatory biometric entry-exit system that would require facial recognition scans for all travelers – including U.S. citizens – entering or departing the United States, according to a Dec. 5 press release from Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

The proposed rule change was revealed in a Fall 2019 government filing to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. DHS stated that requiring U.S. citizens to submit to the biometric entry-exit system would help prevent individuals with fraudulent U.S. travel documents from entering the country. Additionally, DHS said that requiring all travelers to participate would facilitate a “seamless” transition to the new tech.

“Thanks to swift and public pressure, Homeland Security is reversing course and not moving forward with its dystopian facial recognition proposal at U.S. airports,” Markey said in the release, “But we cannot take our right to privacy for granted. Americans still need protection from facial recognition technology, and I still plan to introduce legislation to ban this kind of invasive biometric surveillance.”

U.S. citizens and other exempt groups, such as green card holders, can opt-out of being photographed upon entry or departure by notifying a CBP officer or travel service.

Facial comparison technology already exists at more than 20 U.S. air, sea, and land ports of entry, according to a CBP press release. CBP states that the tech “has enabled CBP to interdict more than 200 individuals who illegally attempted to enter the United States by using the genuine travel documents of persons whom they resemble.”

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.