DHS to deploy facial-recognition technology at border with Mexico

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All foreigners subject to having their photo taken; Americans can opt out of program, but in any case their likeness won't be stored, CBP says

The new cameras at pedestrian lanes at the Paso del Norte Bridge in El Paso, Texas. (photo courtesy CBP)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Get ready to have your picture taken walking back over from Mexico.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that it began using biometric facial-comparison technology at three of the 14 pedestrian lanes at the Paso del Norte border crossing in Downtown El Paso. The agency expects to deploy such technology at all three international bridges between El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, by the end of the year.

A CBP officer processes a traveler using the facial-recognition technology at a U.S. port of entry. (photo courtesy CBP)

Hector Mancha, director of Field Operations for CBP in El Paso, said scanning faces of travelers will create a more secure and expeditious inspection at the ports of entry.

“By automating the identity verification process, CBP can process travelers more efficiently while virtually eliminating the ability of criminals to present other people’s legitimate documents as their own for admission to the United States,” Mancha said.

The new system comes about in response to recommendations from the 9/11 Commission and Congressional mandates to biometrically record the entry and exit of foreigners into the country.

According to CBP, when travelers arrive at a pedestrian Port of Entry, they will pose for a photo at the primary inspection point. A CBP officer will query the traveler’s identity document — passport or visa photo — from a government database. The live photo of the traveler is compared to the photo from the travel document.

CBP says this process takes only a few seconds and is 97 percent accurate. U.S. citizens don’t have to allow for their picture to be taken, as the program is aimed at foreigners. Americans can undergo alternative methods of screening, if they wish, but must tell the CBP inspector when they are about to cross back into the country, the agency said.

But if the U.S. citizen has no problem with verifying his or her identity through facial recognition, the photograph will be deleted within 12 hours of re-entry into the country. “CBP will not retain photos of U.S. citizens during this process,” the agency said in a news release.

Photos of foreign nationals, however, will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system. The agency maintains a “gallery” of foreign travelers captured during previous entry inspection, photographs from U.S. passports and U.S. visas, and photographs from other DHS encounters.

“Facial biometrics will bolster CBP’s entry and exit identification of travelers by enhancing (our) ability to secure the border and identify persons of interest,” the agency said.

Since September 2018, CBP has used biometric facial comparison to nab nearly 200 persons who attempted to cross the Southwest Border using another person’s travel document, the agency says.

Cross-border commuters interviewed Friday coming out of the Paso del Norte pedestrian port of entry had mixed feelings about the new policy.

“I think they’re just doing their job. There’s a lot of people who want to cross (fraudulently) and I understand what they’re doing. I have no problem with it,” said El Pasoan Miguel Jordan.

Antonio Barraza, of Juarez, said the pedestrian line to cross into the United States was unusually long on Friday, but he didn’t know if that was because of the new photo policy.

“They’re taking longer to let you (into the country), but it’s their job. I don’t object to waiting a little longer,” he said.

Off camera, a couple of Mexican citizens complained about the lack of information and loss of privacy.

“They didn’t warn us that they would be doing this. They already have our face in (their computers), why take our picture every time we cross?” said a young adult who only identified himself as Eduardo. “It feels uncomfortable.”

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