Sens. Markey and Lee Query Dept. of Homeland Security on Expansion of Facial Recognition Scanning Programs at U.S. Airports

December 21, 2017

Washington – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to answer important questions about its biometric exit program, which is currently operating at nine U.S. international airports. Currently, DHS requires travelers, including U.S. citizens, departing on select international flights to submit to a face scan so that their faces can be compared to a DHS biometric database for identity verification purposes. In their letter, Senator Markey and Lee query DHS about the accuracy, efficacy and transparency of the program. The senators highlight that under DHS’s true accept rate goal, there would still be a false denial for one in 25 travelers. That means thousands of travelers could be wrongfully denied boarding each day. 

“We are concerned that the use of the program on U.S. citizens remains facially unauthorized,” write Senators Markey and Lee to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson. “We request that DHS stop the expansion of this program and provide Congress with its explicit statutory authority to use and expand a biometric exit program on U.S. citizens.” 

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

Specifically, the Senators request more information from DHS on accuracy concerns and potential flaws in the scanning technology, how the program will not unduly burden travelers, including certain races or gender, how the program is improving visa overstay travel fraud, and the authority of DHS to expand the program when Congress has intentionally not authorized biometric exit scanning for U.S. citizens.

Today, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center issued a report that revealed that while Congress has on nine separate occasions called on DHS to establish a “biometric exit” program to verify the identities of foreign nationals as they leave the country, Congress has not authorized face scans of American citizens. DHS also has not established rules governing the program. DHS also does not know whether it wrongly rejects people at higher rates as a result of their race or gender.