US Customs and Border Protection are beginning to introduce facial recognition systems at land border crossings into the United States. This technology is being trialed at a small number of crossing points on the US-Mexican border.
How do facial recognition systems work and how will it affect traveling to the United States of America?
Facial recognition software is designed to prevent travelers from using fake or stolen ID to enter the United States.
The technology utilizes cameras to take photographs of those crossing the border and cross-references their faces with the image on their travel documents and photographs of the traveler from previous journeys stored in a database.
The system has successfully caught a number of individuals trying to cross into the US with a valid passport that did not belong to them.
In October 2019, shortly after the trial in San Luis, Arizona, began, the facial recognition software flagged a traveler whose passport claimed he was a 22-year-old US citizen from Colorado. After cross-referencing with the passport’s historical record, he was discovered to be an 18-year-old from El Salvador.
Facial recognition at US airports has already been implemented and is actively used at over 20 locations around the country either for arrivals or departures. Many airports have both, a biometric entry and exit program.
A number of airlines operating flights to and from the US also use facial recognition. Images of passengers are taken before they board their flight to the US.
Current US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to implement biometric systems at airports, including facial recognition, as soon as possible.
With the Trump administration’s policy of tightening immigration control, the technology was introduced as well at various points on the Mexican border in September 2019, such as San Luiz and Nogales, Arizona. This is seen as a trial for facial recognition software at US land borders.
The trial is set to be expanded, with more systems being installed at other border checkpoints.
If the technology proves to be a success, it is likely that facial recognition will be used at more and more crossing points along the US-Mexican border and quite possibly along the Canadian border as well.
Biometric technology is, in theory, far more accurate than people at recognizing the faces of others by comparing them to photos.
According to the vice president of federal operations at NEC Corp. of America, which manufactures biometric equipment, human beings generally have a success rate of around 50% when trying to match a stranger in a lineup to a photo.
Facial recognition software, on the other hand, is claimed to be accurate 96-99% of the time.
The implementation of facial recognition software has come under fire by various groups. Many American citizens feel that the use of biometrics at borders is intrusive and there are concerns over how the data will be stored and what it will be used for.
Primary concerns and criticisms include:
The US government introduced facial recognition at border control to increase security. It was initially intended to screen both international travelers and US citizens alike.
However, as a result of the backlash from Americans concerned with privacy issues, US citizens are able to opt-out of having their photo taken for facial recognition purposes. Those who choose not to have their biometrics taken may take longer to pass through border control than those who consent to use the technology.
Non-US citizens entering the US will have no choice but to go through the facial recognition screening process. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to refuse to be screened in the future.
Facial recognition checks at border control are unlikely to affect anyone traveling to the United States legally. If anything, it provides 2 advantages for arrivals:
In order to visit the US legally, it is important to have the correct documentation. Nationals of certain countries can obtain the ESTA visa waiver for the US, while others must obtain a paper visa.
Travelers can apply online for the ESTA through a simple process, which avoids the need to travel to an embassy and stand in line.
As long as visitors have either the ESTA or a visa and a valid passport, they should not experience any problems entering the United States with facial recognition technology.