Washington (March 12, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) released the following joint statement regarding the release of new documents obtained from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that detail the expansion of facial recognition technology to all international travelers traveling through the top 20 U.S. airports by 2021. The documents make it clear that American citizens will be swept up in this practice as the CBP admits there is not enough time to separate U.S. citizens from non-U.S. citizens. The documents also reveal that airlines do not currently face any limits on how they can use travelers’ facial data after being tasked by the CBP to retain the equipment necessary to implement facial recognition screening.


“Since the Department of Homeland Security began scanning travelers’ faces at U.S. airports, we have repeatedly called on the agency to honor their personal commitment to complete a rulemaking to establish privacy and security rules of the road,” said Senators Markey and Lee. “Despite these commitments, DHS has failed to follow through and appears to be expanding the program. Further, DHS has a statutory requirement to submit a report to Congress detailing the viability of biometric technologies, including privacy implications and accuracy. DHS should pause their efforts until American travelers fully understand exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how long their data will be held, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether.”


In December 2017 and again in May 2018, the Senators previously raised questions regarding the use of this biometric facial recognition software, calling for formal rulemaking from the Department of Homeland Security.