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DHS Facial Recognition Tracks Visa Holders’ Faces As They Leave the Country

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it expects to use facial recognition technology on 97% of departing passenger flights within the next four years. The “Biometric Exit” system began in 2017, photographing passengers as they boarded their flights. By the end of 2018 it was operational in 15 U.S airports, including New York’s JFK Airport and Washington, DC's Dulles Airport.

In their Entry & Exit Report, the DHS stated its use of the technology on foreign travelers apart of the Visa program. The non-immigrants enter the United States for an authorized admission period. This can be a fixed amount of time or for the duration of certain activities such as a student pursuing a full course of study at a university.

facial recognition
Facial recognition has identified 7,000 passengers who have stayed beyond their expired Visas

Facial recognition is used to identify overstays, non-immigrants who remain in the country after their Visa’s expire and those whose departure was recorded after their authorized time had expired. The system photographs passengers at their departure gate, cross-referencing that picture with their library of face images from Visa and passport applications, as well as photos taken by border agents as foreigners enter the country.

Placing the technology in public areas and places like airports has raised civic concern as gender and racial biases are apparent even in the advanced technology. Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted a study which found that Rekognition, Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) object detection API, fails to reliably determine the sex of female and darker-skinned faces in specific scenarios.

Critics argue developing a database of millions of identities is a threat to civil liberties.

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