DHS announces that American travelers will not be required to be photographed

Dec 4, 2019

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced today that they will not require all traveling U.S. citizens to be photographed when entering the states.

This news comes just a day after we reported that the DHS posted a notice stating its intention to amend a regulation so that it can photograph all travelers — U.S. citizens included — as they enter or exit the country. The notice, first spotted by View From the Wing, was buried in the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, from fall 2019 is titled “Collection of Biometric Data From U.S. Citizens Upon Entry To and Departure From the United States.”

Many felt this could be a violation of privacy, including Democratic Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, who released a statement strongly condemning the idea, “The Department of Homeland Security should immediately withdraw plans to force Americans to undergo facial recognition and hand over their biometric information. This proposal would amount to disturbing government coercion.”

Since then, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has stated in a news release that, “U.S. citizens may opt out of the biometric facial comparison process by notifying a CBP officer or airline representative. Individuals who opt out simply present their passport for visual inspection, as is standard practice at ports of entry today.” 

A much different tone than previously stated in the DHS notice.

International visitors, however, will be required to succumb to biometric facial technology. By folding the technology into the existing travel process, CBP says it is able to enhance security, facilitate lawful travel and protect traveler privacy.

Although the idea of mandatory photographs may be alarming to some people, it should be familiar to travelers with Global Entry as new facial recognition kiosks have been popping up around the country. This allows registered travelers to speed through immigration without the need for passport scanning or fingerprint recognition. The TSA has also been testing biometrics at airports including at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport (LAS) back in August, but those tests have been voluntary. Both American Airlines and Delta have also tested biometric boarding.

For those who side with Sen. Markey, CBP’s clarification on Americans ability to opt out of the technology should come as a relief.

Featured photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.

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