Representative Susan Wild

Representing the 7th District of Pennsylvania

Reps. Wild, Cleaver, Clarke Sound the Alarm over CBP’s Unprecedented Use of Facial Recognition Technology on American Citizens


June 14, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) led a letter, along with Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), and Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) sounding the alarm over reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using facial recognition technology to scan American citizens - raising concerns over privacy and potential misuse of the American people’s biometric data.


In a letter to Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kevin McAleenan, the Representatives said CBP’s use of their Biometric Exit Program to partner with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and commercial airlines to use facial recognition technology on American citizens is “unprecedented and unauthorized expansion of the agency’s authority.”


“It remains unclear under what authority CBP is carrying out this program on Americans,” the lawmakers wrote. “Serious issues with the Biometric Exit Program have gone unaddressed. As federal representatives, we believe the American people deserve transparency regarding how their biometric data is being used and stored…We call on the Department of Homeland Security to allow for public input and address transparency, privacy and security concerns before expanding this program.”


“The American people have the right to know how their biometric data – their most personal data – is being used and how it’s being protected. They also need to have all information available to them about how to opt out of this program if they would prefer not to have this data collected in the first place,” Wild said. “And the recent data breach is just one more reason we need answers to our questions.”


“As facial recognition technology continues to develop, it has an opportunity to be a powerful and valuable technology for law enforcement,” said Cleaver. “However, it is imperative that protocols are in place to ensure there is no infringement on Americans’ civil liberties and that the data collected remains secure. We will continue to engage with the appropriate entities to ensure those guardrails are in place.”


“The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s facial recognition technology is under-researched and has a chilling effect on Americans, specifically women and people of color. As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I am troubled by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s misuse of authority—behavior that echoes the historic over-policing and surveillance of communities of color which has reemerged today to intimidate immigrants and foreign visitors. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s authority must be reined in to protect the privacy of Americans—especially the people of color who are disproportionately targeted by this facial recognition technology,” Clarke said.


The letter also cites concerns from travelers about the inadequate notice and information being provided about the program, as well as potential misuse and accuracy of the data being collected by the facial recognition program, noting that “the random nature of this pilot program does not allow travelers the requisite advanced notice to make an informed decision on their willingness to participate” and “false matches and algorithmic bias problems in facial recognition technology are well-documented.”


The letter includes 4 questions to DHS:


1) What laws/statutes give CBP the authority to use facial recognition technology on American citizens in the DHS exit program?

2) What effort has CBP made to provide adequate advanced notice about this program and op-out procedures to travelers?

3) What is the nature of the contracts between CBP, airports and airlines? What legal liability do airport and airlines share under this program?

4) Given the recent data breach, how many audits has CBP conducted to date on CBP’s approved partners to ensure they are immediately purging photos following


In addition to Wild, Cleaver, and Clarke the letter is signed by Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-08), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Jimmy Gomez (CA-43), Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Adam Smith (WA-09), Mark Takano (CA-41), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), and Marc Veasey (TX-33).