By Alison Fox
December 03, 2019
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Following criticism from its plan to subject U.S. citizens to facial recognition technology as a means to screen people at airports, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said American citizens can choose to “opt out.”

The federal government has been using facial recognition technology to screen non-U.S. citizens traveling into the country for years. Earlier this week, they indicated their desire to use it on citizens as well.

According to CNN Business, the proposed regulation change, which was filed by the Department of Homeland Security recently, would have allowed them to use the technology on all people coming in and leaving the U.S., and the technology is becoming increasingly common in airports throughout the world.

The proposed regulations would “provide that all travelers, including US citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure."

Intense backlash followed the proposed rule change, however, with both the American Civil Liberties Union and lawmakers objecting.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU, told The New York Times in a statement that "Travelers, including U.S. citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel."

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey told CBS News he would propose legislation to block the move. Republican Sen. Mike Lee has continuously called on DHS to stop expanding the technology.

CBP said in a news release on Wednesday that it believes the technology will “enhance security,” but added that U.S. citizens can choose not to participate. The agency also said it would retain new photos of U.S. citizens for a maximum of 12 hours, rather than 14 days.

“U.S. citizens may opt out of the biometric facial comparison process by notifying a CBP officer or airline representative,” the agency said in a statement. “Individuals who opt out simply present their passport for visual inspection, as is standard practice at ports of entry today.”

So far, the agency said biometric facial comparison technology has been implemented at more than 20 air, sea and land ports of entry around the country.

When the idea of the rule change was introduced, Michael Hardin, director of exit/entry policy and planning at the DHS, told CNN Business the proposed rule change would include a period of public comment.

The concept is not new. In fact, CNN Business reported President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to “accelerate a full roll out of airport biometrics for all domestic and international travelers.” And the idea was also supported by the Obama Administration, they reported.

Facial recognition is being used for many purposes designed to help travelers get through the airport quicker, including checking baggage and boarding a plane.

In November 2018, Delta opened its biometric terminal at the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal at the Atlanta airport, allowing passengers to use the technology to help with things like baggage drop-off counters, TSA checkpoint, and boarding gates.

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