December 9, 2019
The use of biometrics — and the resulting data — are growing exponentially. Pro-consumer website Comparitech analyzed 50 different countries to create a more detailed picture of where and why biometrics are collected and how the data is being stored. Although the U.S. is one of the countries whose biometric collection is “extensive and invasive,” in related news, the Department of Homeland Security mothballed a plan to require facial recognition screening for every person before leaving or entering the country.
According to Comparitech, the study focused on five key areas, to create a more equitable comparison among countries, with scores topping out at 25, to indicate “extensive and invasive use of biometrics and/or surveillance and a low score demonstrating better restrictions and regulations regarding biometric use and surveillance.”
China tops the list, but the U.S. is one of five countries that garnered the highest scores — “meaning they are showing a concerning lack of regard for the privacy of people’s biometric data.”
The U.S. scored 20 due to “having biometrics in passports, ID cards, and bank accounts” as well as a biometric voting system via “optical scan equipment used in a large number of states.” The U.S. also lacks a “specific law to protect citizens’ biometrics” although a few states protect its citizens’ biometric data. It also noted that the FBI and ICE have used facial recognition technology to scan driver license photos “without gaining the citizens’ consent beforehand.”
In response, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley in California and Somerville, Massachusetts banned government use of facial recognition technology. Comparitech also pointed out that, in the workplace, many companies use biometrics, such as “a fingerprint to gain access to a work computer” and that, “fingerprints [are] being required for most American visas and everyone’s fingerprints [are] being collected upon entry to the country.”
Axios reports that “the Department of Homeland Security has backtracked on a plan to require every person, including U.S. citizens and green-card holders, to submit to a facial recognition screening before entering or leaving the country.” It notes that “foreign nationals are already photographed at the border to verify their identity … [and] U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been able to opt out of the process.” The Department’s proposal would have made such screening mandatory for everyone.
Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) stated that “this is a victory for every single American traveler who flies on a plane, and a reminder that we must remain vigilant protectors of our right to privacy.” Last month, Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) proposed a bill “that would require that law enforcement to get a warrant before using facial recognition technology.”