I ask you, for the last time in this series, what does privacy mean in the 21st century? Biometric technology is used in many ways, ranging from making it easier to login to your bank account (i.e., thumbprint) to helping prevent the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil (i.e., facial recognition). Some of these uses are helpful, but personal data collected via biometric technology can be used in a way that infringes our right to privacy. Alvaro Bedoya, the Executive Director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, spoke at length about the latter at the International Association of Privacy Professional’s (IAPP) Global Privacy Summit in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Bedoya specifically spoke about Biometric Exit, a biometric technology program currently being used at only one U.S. airport (Atlanta International Airport), which is only applicable to certain international travelers but could have wide-reaching effects. Biometric Exit allows the government, for national security purposes, to collect the facial recognition data of certain international travelers entering and exiting the United States. That data is used to confirm a traveler’s identity and determine whether that traveler leaves the U.S. in accordance with their allotted time to be lawfully in the country. Facial recognition technology in airports is far from a new topic in Washington; its implementation has been discussed for years in the nation’s Capitol.
Although the stated ultimate goal of national security is laudable, there are concerns regarding the implementation of this technology. Mr. Bedoya is worried that the Trump administration may use this technology to advance its immigration policies. As Mr. Bedoya stated, the immigration policies of this administration are far from standard; it is new precedent for there to be a President who has claimed, among other things, that a federal judge cannot be impartial because of their Mexican heritage.
Consequently, Mr. Bedoya expressed discontent with the idea that this personal data is being collected by the government for national security purposes but may be used by this administration to further its controversial deportation goals. The current administration seeks to deport three million people; those three million people will not voluntarily arrive at the White House to aid this effort. This means that the administration will have to deploy a massive, data-driven surveillance system in order to achieve its goal. In addition to the existing data that is collected from immigrants, such as fingerprints, the government could use the facial recognition data collected by the Biometric Exit program to identify immigrants for deportation. This type of surveillance could infringe the privacy of immigrants and create even more distrust between immigrant communities and this administration.
Facial recognition data collected via the Biometric Exit program is simply another form of personal data that can be honestly collected but deceptively used. The goal of improving national security via Biometric Exit is clearly legitimate. However, the current administration must not, under the guise of that legitimate goal but in furtherance of its deportation efforts, infringe the privacy of millions of immigrants living in the U.S.