By Nicholas West
One aspect often lost in the immigration debate is the rollout of government solutions that are set to restrict the freedom of the perfectly innocent. A key component of this is the increased collection of passenger biometrics.
As I’ve discussed before, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a mandate that’s been 15 years in the making to integrate government databases for ID verification. Private companies have been enlisted to ensure that there is a “quick and easy roll out across U.S. airports,” according to Jim Peters, chief technology officer for SITA, one of the information technology companies working with airlines.
This is predictably moving from isolated and elective collection into mandatory compliance for all inbound and outbound international travelers. This, too, has always been part of the program as shown in this 2017 document from DHS:
Download document here.
As Nextgov reports, this increased data collection will begin before passenger arrival, and is now coupled with transferring everything to centralized cloud storage:
In addition to expanding its biometric capabilities, the agency is also working to migrate all of its traveler processing tech to the cloud, create more self-service tools for the public and let officers use mobile devices to verify people entering the country, officials said in a solicitation published Thursday.
“The paradigm will evolve from biographic data focused to biometric data centric,” officials said in the solicitation. “A biometric-based approach allows threats to be pushed-out further beyond our borders before travelers arrive to the U.S.”
“Integration of facial recognition technologies is intended throughout all passenger applications,” they added.
Officials aim to have all of the agency’s traveler processing and vetting applications housed in the cloud by 2024, the solicitation said, and they also want to allow “officers to admit or refer travelers using mobile technology.”
I’m not sure how many more hacks or government intrusions we need for the world to understand that cloud storage is not secure. But the key aspect — “all passenger applications” — is far more ominous.
As I reported almost a year ago in “Biometric ID For Travel Goes Global With New CBP Tourism Partnership,” The World Travel & Tourism Council made it known that biometric data collection would be demanded for all aspects of travel and could be integrated across the globe:
This begins at the point of booking with a travel company and continues at the airport, through airline check-in, security, boarding, border management, car hire, and hotel check-in, and then on the return, through immigration and departure in a round-trip between two continents.
As the Nextgov article also confirms, speculation about this type of system coming for domestic travel inside the U.S. is not unfounded conspiracy theory:
The Transportation Security Administration is also in the early stages of rolling out facial recognition software for domestic travelers, and the Homeland Security Department is in the process of upgrading its enterprisewide biometric identification capabilities.
In the solicitation, officials included a lengthy list of applications and programs they would expect the selected vendor to support, many of which at least partly relied on biometric technology.
It’s important to keep in mind that warnings about the faulty design of facial recognition systems, in particular, continue to increase even among U.S. law enforcement, and some cities have banned the use of government facial recognition in public. The artificial intelligence that underpins the analytics of the data collection also has received a stern rebuke from the world’s leading university experts on predictive modeling.
It appears that CBP has not been receiving the memos, as there is a tip of the hat to pre-crime discovery in their conclusion:
“The future of CBP relies on modern technology,” officials said. “To be successful, officers and agents need tailored, intuitive, and advanced capabilities to anticipate and combat emerging threats.”
So it looks like the future of travel is having all of our biological information collected by untrustworthy governments, centralized into unsecure databases, and being judged by flawed artificial intelligence as to whether or not we are fit to travel. What’s not to love?