Facial Recognition: CBP and TSA are Taking Steps to Implement Programs, but CBP Should Address Privacy and System Performance Issues

What GAO Found

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made progress testing and deploying facial recognition technology (FRT) at ports of entry to create entry-exit records for foreign nationals as part of its Biometric Entry-Exit Program. As of May 2020, CBP, in partnership with airlines, had deployed FRT to 27 airports to biometrically confirm travelers’ identities as they depart the United States (air exit) and was in the early stages of assessing FRT at sea and land ports of entry.

Facial Recognition Technology in Use at an Airport

CBP has taken steps to incorporate some privacy principles in its program, such as publishing the legislative authorities used to implement its program, but has not consistently provided complete information in privacy notices or ensured notices were posted and visible to travelers. Ensuring that privacy notices contain complete information and are consistently available would help give travelers the opportunity to decline to participate, if appropriate. Further, CBP requires its commercial partners, such as airlines, to follow CBP’s privacy requirements and can audit partners to assess compliance. However, as of May 2020, CBP had audited only one of its more than 20 airline partners and did not have a plan to ensure all partners are audited. Until CBP develops and implements an audit plan, it cannot ensure that traveler information is appropriately safeguarded.

CBP has assessed the accuracy and performance of air exit FRT capabilities through operational testing. Testing found that air exit exceeded its accuracy goals—for example, identifying over 90 percent of travelers correctly—but did not meet a performance goal to capture 97 percent of traveler photos because airlines did not consistently photograph all travelers. A plan to improve the photo capture rate would help CBP better fulfill the program’s mission of creating biometrically confirmed traveler departure records. Further, while CBP monitors air exit’s performance, officials are not alerted when performance falls short of minimum requirements.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has conducted pilot tests to assess the feasibility of using FRT but, given the limited nature of these tests, it is too early to fully assess TSA’s compliance with privacy protection principles.

Why GAO Did This Study

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), CBP is charged with the dual mission of facilitating legitimate travel and securing U.S. borders, and TSA is responsible for protecting the nation’s transportation system. For both CBP and TSA, part of their inspection and screening responsibilities includes reviewing travel identification documents and verifying traveler identities. Beginning in 1996, a series of federal laws were enacted to develop and implement an entry-exit data system, which is to integrate biographic and, since 2004, biometric records for foreign nationals. This report addresses (1) the status of CBP’s deployment of FRT, (2) the extent to which CBP has incorporated privacy protection principles, (3) the extent to which CBP has assessed the accuracy and performance of its FRT, and (4) the status of TSA’s testing and deployment of FRT and how TSA has incorporated privacy protection principles. GAO conducted site visits to observe CBP’s and TSA’s use of FRT, which were selected to include all three travel environments—air, land, and sea; reviewed program documents; and interviewed DHS officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making five recommendations to CBP to (1) ensure privacy notices are complete, (2) ensure notices are available at locations using FRT, (3) develop and implement a plan to audit its program partners for privacy compliance, (4) develop and implement a plan to capture required traveler photos at air exit, and (5) ensure it is alerted when air exit performance falls below established thresholds. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

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    The Justice Department announced today that a federal court in Orlando, Florida, permanently enjoined Advanced Tax Services Inc. and Genson Financial Group LLC from preparing federal tax returns for others and ordered the businesses to disgorge $710,191.55, jointly and severally, representing the ill-gotten gains that they received for the preparation of tax returns. The court also entered permanent injunctions and disgorgement judgments against defendants Lenorris Lamoute and Dosuld Pierre, whom the court found prepared tax returns for compensation at Advanced Tax Services. The order was entered on default because the defendants failed to defend against the government’s allegations.
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    In Travel
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  • Newport News Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty to Preparing False Return
    In Crime News
    A Newport News, Virginia, tax preparer pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting the preparation of a false tax return, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia.
    [Read More…]
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Murray Delivers Remarks at University of Michigan Law School
    In Crime News
    I am here today to speak about the intersection of the antitrust laws and the financial sector of our economy.  The financial markets and the financial services industry are currently undergoing massive transformation.  New technologies are disrupting how we do business, how we transact with each other, and how the economy functions.  Much of this change benefits consumers with innovative, low cost, and convenient products and services.  But with rapid change also comes the opportunity for anticompetitive conduct and its attendant harm.  Incumbents may predict and resist their demise and seek to slow innovation and the growth of rivals, and market participants who should compete against each other can agree to act jointly to the detriment of the American consumer. 
    [Read More…]
  • Government Contractor Admits Scheme to Inflate Costs on Federal Projects and Pays $11 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Probes
    In Crime News
    Schneider Electric Buildings Americas Inc. (Schneider Electric), a nationwide provider of electricity solutions for buildings and data centers with its principal place of business in Carrollton, Texas, will pay $11 million to resolve criminal and civil investigations relating to kickbacks and overcharges on eight federally-funded energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), the Department of Justice announced today. Under the contracts, Schneider Electric was to install a variety of energy savings upgrades, such as solar panels, LED lighting, and insulation, in federal buildings.
    [Read More…]
  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Tampa, Florida, Towing Company for Unlawfully Selling Car Belonging to Deployed Servicemember
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida alleging that Target Recovery Towing Inc. and Target Recovery & Transport Inc. (together “Target”) violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), by failing to obtain a court order before auctioning off a car belonging to a U.s. Marine Corps Sergeant who was deployed overseas.  
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  • Health Care Company Indicted for Labor Market Collusion
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Surgical Care Affiliates LLC and its related entity (collectively SCA), which own and operate outpatient medical care centers across the country, for agreeing with competitors not to solicit senior-level employees, the Department of Justice announced today. These are the Antitrust Division’s first charges in this ongoing investigation into employee allocation agreements.
    [Read More…]
  • Warsaw Process Humanitarian Issues and Refugees Working Group Convenes in Brasilia
    In Human Health, Resources and Services
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • U.S. Taxpayer in Panama Papers Investigation Sentenced to Prison
    In Crime News
    A former U.S. resident and taxpayer was sentenced in the Southern District of New York to four years in prison for wire fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, false statements, and other charges.
    [Read More…]
  • Saudi Arabia Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Department of Justice and Partner Departments and Agencies Conduct Coordinated Actions to Disrupt and Deter Iranian Malicious Cyber Activities Targeting the United States and the Broader International Community
    In Crime News
    Unsealing of [Read More…]
  • Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Travel
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  • Justice Department Alleges Conditions at Massachusetts Department of Corrections Violate the Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts today concluded an investigation into conditions at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC).
    [Read More…]
  • NASA’s Perseverance Rover Goes Through Trials by Fire, Ice, Light and Sound
    In Space
    The agency’s new [Read More…]