Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Department of Homeland Security is rushing to implement its facial recognition program at 20 of the nation's busiest airports. (Photo: Delta)

'Unjustified and Unnecessary': DHS Could Use Facial Recognition on 97% of Departing Airline Passengers

Advocacy groups say the department's program poses a serious threat to civil liberties

Jake Johnson

The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that it expects to be able to use facial recognition technology to scan 97 percent of departing airline passengers within the next four years.

The department's facial recognition program, officially titled "Biometric Exit," is run by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a branch of DHS.

According to The Hill, the program "cross-references the images of departing passengers with a 'gallery' of images [and] photos from visa and passport applications. The matching service allows CBP to create a record of the passenger's departure, which they can then use to figure out if the individual has overstayed their visa."

Biometric Exit has raised alarm among privacy advocates.

Jeramie Scott, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Domestic Surveillance Project, told Buzzfeed in March that "it's important to note what the use of facial recognition [in airports] means for American citizens."

"It means the government, without consulting the public, a requirement by Congress, or consent from any individual, is using facial recognition to create a digital ID of millions of Americans," Scott said.

Members of Congress have echoed privacy advocates' concerns about the implications of facial recognition technology, which is largely unregulated under U.S. law.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) called on DHS to halt the Biometric Exit program in a joint statement last month.

"DHS has a statutory requirement to submit a report to Congress detailing the viability of biometric technologies, including privacy implications and accuracy," the senators said. "DHS should pause their efforts until American travelers fully understand exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how long their data will be held, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether."

As Common Dreams reported last month, CBP is "scrambling" to implement its facial recognition program at busy airports in Atlanta, New York, and other major cities across the United States.

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU, said facial recognition is "an extremely powerful surveillance technology that has the potential to do things never before done in human history."

"Yet the government is hurtling along a path towards its broad deployment—and in this case, a deployment that seems quite unjustified and unnecessary," Stanley added.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

As Right-Wing Dems Balk at Price Tag, Poll Shows 66% of US Voters Support $3.5 Trillion Package

The new survey shows Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation proposal is slightly more popular than the far smaller $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden White House Dismisses WHO Call for Moratorium on Vaccine Boosters

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki touted U.S. vaccine donations to poor countries, but public health advocates have warned the Biden administration isn't doing nearly enough.

Jake Johnson ·


Democrats Demand Amazon and Facebook End Efforts to 'Sideline' FTC Chair Lina Khan

"Your efforts only add to the perception that you are attempting to bully your regulators, disarm the FTC, and avoid accountability rather than to strengthen ethics standards."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Follows House Dems' Letter by Imploring Biden to Close Gitmo 'Once and for All'

"This letter, signed by four House committee chairs, should send a clear message to President Biden: He has the political support to swiftly close the detention center at Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Truly Disturbing': Facebook Blasted for Blocking NYU Researchers Examining Ad Model and Misinformation

"It is disgraceful that Facebook is attempting to squash legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform."

Jessica Corbett ·