Dec 5, 2019 - Technology

Department of Homeland Security drops controversial facial recognition plan

Photo of a woman in front of a screen with a checkmark and the words "Proceed to gate."

A facial recognition system at Dulles Airport. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The Department of Homeland Security has backtracked on a plan to require every person, including U.S. citizens and green-card holders, to submit to a facial recognition screening before entering or leaving the country.

Why it matters: Facial recognition has emerged as a privacy flashpoint. As some cities pass bans on the technology, the federal government has pushed forward — but this reversal shows the limits of public appetite for its use.

What's happening: Foreign nationals are already photographed at the border to verify their identity. U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been able to opt out of the process — but DHS recently proposed making the screening mandatory for all.

  • Customs and Border Patrol confirmed to TechCrunch Thursday that U.S. citizens will still be allowed to "voluntarily participate in the biometrics entry–exit program."

What they're saying: After the plan to expand facial recogntion was revealed earlier this week in a TechCrunch report, privacy advocates in government and civil society raised an alarm.

  • Sen. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) said in a statement following the reversal: "This is a victory for every single American traveler who flies on a plane, and a reminder that we must remain vigilant protectors of our right to privacy."

What's next: Sens. Chris Coons (D–Del.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) put forward a bill last month that would require that law enforcement to get a warrant before using facial recognition technology.

Go deeper: China's move on facial recognition standards

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