Face scans for Americans flying abroad stir privacy issues – New York News

If the Trump administration gets its way, all Americans boarding international flights will have to submit to a face scan, a plan privacy advocates call an ill-advised step toward a surveillance state.


HOUSTON — If the Trump administration gets its way, all Americans boarding international flights will have to submit to a face scan, a plan privacy advocates call an ill-advised step toward a surveillance state.

The Department of Homeland Security says it’s the only way to successfully expand a program that tracks nonimmigrant foreigners. They have been required by law since 2004 to submit biometric identity scans — but to date have only had their fingerprints and photos collected prior to entry.

Now, DHS says it’s finally ready to implement face scans on departure — aimed mainly at better tracking visa overstays but also at tightening security. But, the agency says, U.S. citizens must also be scanned for the program to work.

Privacy advocates say that oversteps Congress’ mandate.

“Congress authorized scans of foreign nationals. DHS heard that and decided to scan everyone. That’s not how a democracy is supposed to work,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University.

Pilots projects are underway at six U.S. airports — Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, New York City and Washington, D.C. DHS aims to have high-volume U.S. international airports engaged beginning next year.

During the pilots, passengers will be able to opt out. But a DHS assessment of the privacy impact indicates that won’t always be the case.

“The…

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