U.S. Customs and Border Protection—one of the arms of the federal immigration machine shoving tens of thousands of people into de facto concentration camps—is eyeing equipping officers with facial recognition body cams, according to Reuters.
Reuters wrote that on Wednesday, CBP posted an exploratory request for equipment like body cams, cloud storage, and video software that could help agents in remote regions, with face recognition listed as a non-required item of “potential interest.” That request says CBP wanted vendors to supply information about whether it was currently possible to check faces against a database and/or when that capability would be attained, though it also sought information on why vendors might choose not to develop such a system.
There’s ample reason to be concerned about immigration authorities getting their hands on face recognition tech. Research has repeatedly shown that it is prone to significant racial and gender bias, which is troubling enough even before factoring in that federal immigration authorities have been routinely accused of violating fundamental aspects of human rights law. Donald Trump’s administration has also tried to fast-track deportations with less due process than ever, and there have been numerous instances of federal immigration authorities deporting legal immigrants who committed crimes decades ago. In some cases, people have been deported after being misidentified, despite (or perhaps enabled by) use of biometrics like fingerprints.
The White House has also been repeatedly set back in court in its efforts to force through expansions of power that would enable it to be crueler to immigrants and refugees. (One of its key immigration architects, Steven Miller, has every appearance of being a thinly veiled white “nationalist.”) Meanwhile, FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have already been scanning millions of Americans’ state drivers’ licenses with almost no oversight. As Gizmodo has previously reported, the “deeply flawed and intrinsically biased” technology is already in wide deployment with state and local police, who have sometimes concealed its use from criminal defendants.
“Building a system with the potential to arbitrarily scan and identify individuals without any criminal suspicion and discover personal information about their location, interests or activities, can and should simply be banned by law,” University of the District of Columbia Andrew Ferguson told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform earlier this year.
It is not hard to see how face recognition could perpetuate racial profiling at the border, and more generally the longstanding U.S. government deportation machine, on a massive scale. That’s not even counting a recent data breach in which hackers stole an undisclosed number of license-plate images and ID photos from a CBP subcontractor.
“Body cameras were promised to communities as a tool for officer accountability and should not be twisted into surveillance systems to be used against communities,” ACLU senior counsel Chris Rickerd told Reuters.