Introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R – TX), S. 1757 would further militarize our borders by mandating ground, tower, and mobile surveillance. Moreover, Pres. Trump’ s campaign pledge to enforce around-the-clock drone surveillance on the U.S.-Mexico border is all but enshrined in S. 1757’s directive for drone flights at the border for “not less than 24 hours per day for five days per week “ (Sec. 103).
S. 1757 would expand biometric data collection without safeguarding privacy rights. The law would create “storage of iris scans and voice prints of aliens” (Sec. 205) accessible to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The facial recognition program would be set up at 45 exit stations: the 15 busiest air, sea and land ports. Although only non-citizens would be subject to facial scans, there is reason to believe that the program would eventually be expanded to include citizens, as well.
In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a facial recognition trial program at six major U.S. airports — Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, New York City, and Washington, D.C. A 2004 biometric law initially exempted Americans, but this year DHS told Congress that is was no longer “feasible to require airlines to have two separate boarding processes for US citizens and non-US citizens.” There is nothing to suggest that S. 1757 would be administrated any differently by DHS; as it stands, the trial program already includes many of the 15 busiest airports targeted by S. 1757.
Biometric scans are subject to few regulatory checks. Law enforcement agencies have access to face recognition databases that include over 117 million American adults (Driver’s Licenses and Passports provide the bulk of photographs). A June 2017 Privacy Impact report by DHS concluded that the “only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling.” Even DHS’ assurance that facial scans at the six aforementioned airports will be deleted after 14 days is not federal law, but discretionary agency policy and DHS has admitted it may store scans for far longer.
The Building America’s Truth Act undermines privacy rights, mandates too board surveillance and has too few safeguards protecting our rights. Such legislation does not build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, but, rather, feeds suspicion that our visual identities will be inappropriately handled by government officials. This fear is particularly acute within minority communities. Biometric data collection needs to be specific, not universal. And legislation must ensure that only concerned parties have access to such information with strict procedures on usage, shortage, and expiration. All Americans concerned about privacy rights should urge their Congressional representatives to defeat S. 1757.