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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

23 House Democrats have signed a letter to acting Homeland Secretary Kevin McAleenan expressing concern over reports of facial recognition systems being used on American citizens.

The big picture: Regulating facial recognition software has bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats are worried about potential abuse of power by law enforcement and have suggested implementing federal laws to restrain the technology. Others are concerned it could be used as a tool for authoritarian surveillance, as in China and other states.

What's happening: In their letter, Democratic lawmakers cited reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are using facial recognition tech at airports to scan American citizens under the Biometric Exit Program — which "expressly limits the collection of biometric data to foreign nationals."

  • "It remains unclear under what authority CBP is carrying out this program on Americans," they write, citing reports that the agency has partnered with TSA and commercial airlines to monitor citizens.
  • CBP claims it "does not require U.S. Citizens or exempt aliens to have their pictures taken on entry" to the country and "does not require any travelers to have their photos taken when exiting" the U.S., through the Biometric Exit Program.
  • House Democrats questioned this claim, arguing that "the random nature of this pilot program does not allow travelers the requisite advanced notice to make an informed decision on their willingness to participate."

Where it stands: CBP employs the biometric exit process in 17 locations, an agency spokesperson told Axios.

  • CBP has biometrically processed more than 19 million travelers using facial recognition across air entry, air exit, and preclearance locations with a match rate of more than 97%, as of May 14, the spokesperson said.

The other problem: Last week, CBP said images of travelers collected through the agency's growing facial-recognition program were compromised in a "malicious cyberattack," the Washington Post reports. According to CBP's initial reports, fewer than 100,000 people were affected and the stolen information only included photographs.

  • CBP says it discards all photos of U.S. citizens within 12 hours of identity verification. Photographs compromised in that "malicious cyberattack" were "of people in vehicles entering and exiting the U.S. over a month and a half" through an unnamed border entry port, the Post reports.

The Hill reported that a CBP spokeswoman confirmed the agency had received the House Democrats' letter.

Read the full letter:

Go deeper: Reports detail spread of secretive facial recognition in the U.S.

Go deeper

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
46 mins ago - Health

Experts fear a bad flu season on top of COVID

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Public health officials are warning that the U.S. may be on the verge of a dangerous double whammy: COVID and flu, spreading simultaneously.

The big picture: The Delta variant is still circulating across the U.S., and the Omicron variant isn't far behind. On top of that, experts see potential warning signs of a bad flu season, which could leave millions of Americans vulnerable and strain health care resources.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Australia joins U.S. in diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Australia is joining the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games in protest of human rights abuses committed by China's government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Wednesday.

Driving the news: After the Biden administration's announcement that U.S. officials won't attend the Games due to the ongoing genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region of China, Morrison said at a Sydney briefing that Australia would follow suit as "it's the right thing to do."

Progressives to file resolution to strip Boebert's committee seats

Rep. Lauren Boebert walking through the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House progressives are planning to introduce a resolution on Wednesday to strip Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) of her committee assignments, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: The move, which was first reported by the Washington Post, comes as progressives — anxious to see the right-wing firebrand face retribution for her recent comments — have grown frustrated by Democratic leadership's inaction on the issue.