Dec 5, 2019

Department of Homeland Security drops controversial facial recognition plan

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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DHS renews facial recognition plans

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios Visuals

The Department of Homeland Security recently updated its proposal to include U.S. citizens in facial recognition databases when entering or leaving the country.

The big picture: This move is part of the agency's long-term plan to upgrade the TSA's biometrics and identification technology, which has included facial recognition testing at over a dozen major airports.

Go deeperArrowDec 4, 2019

Leaked documents show Chinese businesses are shaping UN facial recognition standards

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The United Nations' standards for facial recognition, video monitoring, and city and vehicle surveillance are being shaped by Chinese tech groups including ZTE, Dahua and China Telecom, according to leaked documents reported by the Financial Times.

Why it matters: Companies that help shape standards are able to craft regulations to fit their own goals and specifications. Developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where China has sought to grow its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative, often adopt standards developed by the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as policy, according to the FT.

Go deeperArrowDec 1, 2019

China's move on face-recognition standards

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese tech companies have ramped up efforts to set technical standards for facial recognition, raising concerns among business competitors, political observers and humanitarian advocates.

Why it matters: China has long made a systematic effort to set international standards on data and hardware compatibility across brands so that the standards reflect how Chinese products already work — giving its domestic industries a leg up in engineering races.

Go deeperArrowDec 5, 2019 - World