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US Homeland Security Wants Facial Recognition to Identify People in Moving Cars

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to develop technology that scans the faces of travelers as they enter and leave the US. The difficult part? The agency wants to do it without anyone needing to get out of their cars.

First spotted by Nextgov, DHS has posted a public notice calling on technology companies to submit proposals for the system by January 2018. The agency is hosting an “industry day” in Silicon Valley on November 14th to give businesses more information about what it is they’re looking for exactly.


The proposed program would allow Homeland Security to maintain a database of everyone who leaves and enters the US that would now include photos taken by spying robot-cameras at every border crossing. Not only does DHS want this new facial recognition program to work without anyone having to exit their vehicle, the agency wants it to work even if the travelers are wearing things like sunglasses and hats. DHS also wants it to work without cars having to stop.

From the description by DHS (emphasis mine):

Proposed solutions must capture face recognition quality photographs of a vehicle’s occupants without the travelers having to leave the vehicle and traveling at speed. The photo will be used to validate the identities of the occupants and document their entry or exit from the United States. The capability must be able to package and transmit the captured information in order to compare against DHS holdings to validate occupants’ identities and document entry/exit. In addition, the capability must be able to account for environmental (e.g., lighting, windshield tint, vehicle speed, and infrastructure), traffic (e.g., less trafficked ports may experience faster travelling vehicles which could increase the probability of motion blur), and occupant behavioral factors (e.g., sun glasses, hats, driver looking away or obstructing face view). CBP is interested in both standalone and multi-configuration integrated system approaches. All proposals should detail the requisite camera parameters and infrastructure requirements, and characterize the impact of technical and operational challenges (e.g., windshield contrast and transmission, occlusions, facial pose, and motion blur) on their proposed solution.


So what about privacy concerns for US citizens? DHS touches on that in the request for proposals:

In addition, innovative approaches that allow for anonymization of U.S. citizen traveler data who are not “in-scope” for biometric exit and privacy controls that limit the collection of such information should be documented clearly. Finally, the system must account for diversity in passenger demographics and socioeconomics (e.g., access to and use of mobile electronic devices).

US Customs and Border Protection considers its jurisdiction to be anything within 100 miles of the border, so naturally one of the privacy questions for Americans is whether this tech would be deployed inside the United States. CBP did not respond to a request for comment on this story that was sent yesterday evening. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Between high-tech license plate readers and facial recognition programs, the world is looking a lot more like Minority Report with each passing day. But unfortunately it seems like we’re not getting all of the cool, helpful technologies from that movie. We’re just getting the dystopian police state ones.