DHS Looking to Expand Surveillance Powers Through Biometrics

The DHS is once again looking to expand the scope of its surveillance capabilities. This time by broadening the definition of “biometric”.

September 14, 2020

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

dhs biometric I’ve likened the response to COVID-19 to that of 9/11: a gross overreach by the government in the name of safety, in response to an event that statistically will not be a significant threat to people.

This position doesn’t deny that people died, nor does it debase the value of their lives. But it does say the trampling of civil liberties and the decimation of economies is not necessary to honor those lives.

Every crisis ushers in a new package of tyranny. People are so distracted from the latest fear campaign they don’t even see the stuff that sneaks in, and they don’t seem to care about the stuff that is even overtly rushed in.

The fact is, these expansions have never yielded the results they claim when they are first pitched to Congress for approval. Can you imagine the first proposal for the TSA after 9/11? Nineteen years later, congress still won’t accept what an abject failure it has been in the counter-terrorism effort.

These policies are like the yo-yo that goes down but never comes back up. We’re told they’ll be reeled back in once all this passes, but I think anyone over 30 knows better.

Here’s another little treasure the DHS is looking to: expanding biometric surveillance in the name of border control.

In the years leading up to a 2017 DHS mandate, private airlines were “testing” biometrics for boarding passes and luggage claim. Then came the collaboration between Jet Blue and Customs and Border Patrol

Then, in 2017, the DHS sought mandatory biometric identification at the exit of airports for foreign travel. That is the product of a nearly 15 year endeavor. It was meant for foreigners, but Americans will inevitably get scooped up in the dragnet.

Either the US citizens will be captured in the backgrounds or they will be deliberately subjected to these scans at the airport. Warning: there is no opt-out from this. The only way to avoid it is to avoid foreign travel.

The DHS further claims that they would get rid of American scans within fourteen days, but doesn’t rule out keeping them under special circumstances.

Are you keeping up with the double-speak? I’m not.

Fast forward to today, and the DHS is once again seeking to expand the scope of biometric surveillance.

The National Law Review put out a highlight list of what to expect from this 328 page rule:

  • Unless waived by DHS, any applicant, petitioner, sponsor, beneficiary, or individual filing or associated with an immigration benefit or request, including U.S. citizens, must appear for biometrics collection – regardless of age.

  • There will be new biometrics modalities including iris scans, palm prints and voice prints.

  • DHS may require DNA results to prove the existence of a claimed genetic relationship.

  • Foreign nationals who are granted immigration benefits will be subject to continued and subsequent vetting and biometric evaluation until granted U.S. citizenship.

This could get redundant as well. As National Law Review goes on to say that employers and employees (as well as their family members) who travel internationally for their work will be subject to regular and multiple biometric screenings.

Both the screenings and collection rates will rise by over 50% from their current levels:

The rule estimates the number of annual biometrics screenings will soar from 3.9 million to 6.07 million. The collection rate will rise from 46% to over 70%.

The cost is estimated to be anywhere from $3 to $5 billion over the next decade with a goal of a total capture rate of 259 million people by 2022. That’s not long from now.

They wish to change the definition of what constitutes “biometric”. By change, I mean broaden it to:

“The measurable biological (anatomical and physiological) or behavioral characteristics used for identification of an individual.

This definition would add palm prints, photographs for facial recognition, voiceprints, iris images, and DNA to determine genetic similarities to its pre-existing biometric database, which include collecting fingerprints and signatures of immigrants.

Throughout this whole thing: starting from the 15 years leading up to the first rule in 2017, to now, the goal has been to build upon the database and tools they have now. What they have now is enough to choke an elephant.

In fact, a little less than two years ago, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) teamed up with The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). They represent the leaders of the global Travel & Tourism private sector.

“Both WTTC and CBP are committed to the application of facial biometrics in the travel journey as a means of maximizing security while ensuring legitimate tourists can visit the country to create jobs and drive economic growth.”

The DHS has their tentacles in everything.

If I took them at their word that this truly was about “border security”, I’d still want an explanation for why Americans are subject to all this.

Just a reminder that the DHS was founded in November of 2002. This was a byproduct of 9/11. Do you feel safer yet? Evidently with their new rules rolling out, they don’t think you’re safe enough yet.

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