Two U.S. senators urged federal authorities to stop the planned expansion of a $1 billion airport facial scanning program.
According to Reuters, Senators Mike Lee, a Republican, and Ed Markey, a Democrat, have expressed concerns that the technology may not be not accurate enough and could put privacy at risk.
The facial recognition program would identify travelers on select international flights departing from nine U.S. airports, including Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York’s John F. Kennedy, Washington Dulles, both Houston airports, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta.
Congress has approved the use of the program for non-U.S. citizens, but never authorized its use for Americans. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said the system is needed to prevent travelers from leaving the country using someone else’s identity, as well as to prevent visitors to the U.S. from overstaying their visas.
In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the senators raised concerns that many travelers would be inconvenienced by faulty scan results and questioned why Americans are being screened. They also raised objections to expanding the program beyond the nine airports.
“We request that DHS stop the expansion of this program and provide Congress with its explicit statutory authority to use and expand a biometric exit program on U.S. citizens,” the senators wrote. “If there is no specific authorization, then we request an explanation for why DHS believes it has the authority to proceed.”
The letter also cited a recent report by Georgetown University Law School’s Center on Privacy & Technology, which found DHS is conducting the scans “without basic legal and technical safeguards – or any meaningful justification of its billion-dollar cost.”
The report also noted that DHS has not established any rules governing the program.
“It’s as if DHS has hired a billion-dollar bouncer to check IDs, but never checked how good he is at spotting a fake,” said Laura Moy, deputy director of the center and co-author of the report. “They also don’t know if he’s biased against certain groups of people.”