EPIC v. CBP (Biometric Entry/Exit Program)

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  • Supreme Court of India Rules Privacy is a Fundamental Right: India's Supreme Court has ruled that privacy is a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution. In a unanimous ruling, the Court explained the "right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution." The Court also recognized that "Informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy" and modern privacy risks are caused by both the public and private sector. The ruling may impact significant cases pending in India, including a challenge to Aadhaar, India's massive biometric identification system, and WhatsApp's privacy policy change. In 2009 NGOs and privacy experts set out the Madrid Privacy Declaration, which affirmed privacy as a fundamental human right. In 2010, EPIC urged the US Supreme Court to recognize the right of "informational privacy." EPIC explained that the Whalen decision and a famous German census case, "influenced international privacy jurisprudence, resulting in the widespread recognition of the right to informational privacy." EPIC's report Privacy and Human Rights provides an overview of privacy frameworks around the world. (Aug. 24, 2017)
  • EPIC to Congress: Examine Facial Recognition Surveillance at the Border: EPIC has sent a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee in advance of a hearing on "Technology's Role on Securing the Border." EPIC alerted the Committee to EPIC's recent FOIA lawsuit about the federal government's deployment of a biometric "entry/exit tracking system," including at US airports. A recent Executive Order on immigration will push forward the biometric identification system, and will include citizens returning to the U.S. EPIC has warned that biometric identification techniques, such as facial recognition, lack proper privacy safeguards. EPIC noted that the federal agency pursuing the border identification program is also deploying drones, and should comply with state laws and a 2015 Presidential Memorandum that limit drone surveillance. (Jul. 24, 2017)
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  • EPIC Files FOIA Lawsuit Over Border Biometrics, Expanded Tracking » (Jul. 20, 2017)
    EPIC has filed a FOIA lawsuit against Customs and Border Protection for information about the agency’s deployment of a biometric entry/exit tracking system, including at US airports. Trump's recent Executive Order regarding immigration ordered the expedited implementation of a biometric entry/exit tracking system, which will include U.S. citizens. Biometric techniques, including facial recognition, lack proper privacy safeguards. EPIC previously sued the FBI over the Bureau’s Next Generation Identification database, which contains face prints, fingerprints, and other biometrics of millions of Americans. EPIC's lawsuit against the FBI revealed that biometric identification is often inaccurate.
  • EPIC Urges TSA to Consider Alternative to Biometric Collection » (Jul. 5, 2017)
    In comments to the Transportation Security Administration, EPIC urged the agency to consider alternatives to expanding the collection of biometric identifiers for the TSA Pre-Check application. EPIC explained the potential for biometric identifiers to be used for purposes other than determining eligibility for Pre-Check and the substantial personal privacy risks for applicants if the databases associated with Pre-Check were compromised. EPIC also proposed privacy enhancing alternatives, such as limiting the storage of biometric identifiers or providing information on how to have information removed from databases associated with Pre-Check. EPIC routinely highlights the risks of large, overbroad government databases and the privacy risks inherent in the collection of biometric information.
  • EPIC Urges Senate Committee to Investigate FBI's Massive Biometric Database » (May. 1, 2017)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee for an upcoming FBI oversight hearing. EPIC urged the Committee to investigate the FBI's Next Generation Identification system, a massive biometric database. EPIC has sought to ensure that the FBI database complies fully with the federal Privacy Act which the Bureau has opposed. EPIC explained to the Senate Committee that an individual's ability to control disclosure of identity "is an essential aspect of personal security and privacy." In a leading FOIA lawsuit, EPIC v. FBI, EPIC also uncovered documents which revealed high error rates in the biometric system. EPIC has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the FBI for information about the agency's plans to transfer biometric data to the Department of Defense.
  • EPIC Joins Coalition to Urge FOIA Compliance on Immigration Enforcement » (Apr. 25, 2017)
    EPIC joined a coalition of civil society organizations to urge the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. The letter to DHS Secretary Kelly calls upon the federal agency to "fully disclose information on immigration enforcement cooperation between federal and non-federal law enforcement agencies." EPIC previously received documents through a Freedom of Information Act Request about DHS's immigration enforcement practices. The documents obtained by EPIC detail the "Priorities Enforcement Program," a controversial program that relied on biometric data collection for immigration enforcement.
  • EPIC Urges House Oversight Committee to Explore FBI's Use of Biometric Data » (Mar. 21, 2017)
    EPIC has sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight concerning "Law Enforcement's Use of Facial Recognition Technology." EPIC urged the Committee to investigate the FBI's Next Generation Identification program. EPIC explained that an individual's ability to control disclosure of identity "is an essential aspect of personal security and privacy." The FBI biometric database is one of the largest in the world, but the FBI has opposed privacy safeguards that EPIC supported. The Bureau proposed to exempt the database from Privacy Act protections. EPIC has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the FBI for information about the agency's plans to transfer biometric data to the Department of Defense.
  • Data Protection Experts Recommend New protections for Biometric Identification Online » (Mar. 17, 2017)
    The International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications adopted new recommendations to improve the privacy and security of biometric identification online. The Berlin-based Working Group includes Data Protection Authorities and experts who work together to address emerging privacy challenges. The "Working Paper on Biometrics in Online Authentication )" explains that “biometrics in online authentication offers one possibility to address some of the shortcomings” of conventional online passwords, but the “data protection and privacy risks” must be considered. Among their recommendations, the experts urge policymakers to support for “[p]roactive privacy tools,” and contend biometric authentication should “remai[n] an active choice by the user and not a condition of use.” EPIC will host the 61st meeting of the International Working Group in Washington DC in April 2017.
  • EPIC FOIA: EPIC Seeks Information about Airport Eye Scans of U.S. Travelers » (Mar. 2, 2017)
    EPIC has filed an urgent FOIA request with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for details of eye scans conducted on U.S. citizens traveling internationally. The CBP has long been testing biometric identification of travelers, including U.S. citizens, and a recent report indicates U.S. citizens were subject to eye scans before traveling abroad. EPIC seeks public disclosure of the details of CBP policies for scanning U.S. citizen irises and retinas upon entry or exit to the U.S. EPIC makes frequent use of the Freedom of Information Act. As the result of a FOIA lawsuit, EPIC recently obtained several memorandum of understanding regarding the transfer of biometric identifiers between the FBI and DOD. Last month, EPIC also prevailed in EPIC v. FBI, a FOIA lawsuit public release of the FBI's privacy assessments.
  • EPIC FOIA: EPIC Obtains FBI-DoD Biometric Data Plans » (Jan. 30, 2017)
    Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC has obtained several memorandum of understanding regarding the transfer of biometric identifiers between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense. One of the agreements, which includes the State Department, calls for "a direct conduit for the parties to access databases storing biometric information." Last year, EPIC filed extensive comments scrutinizing the FBI's proposal to remove Privacy Act safeguards from the Bureau's massive biometric database known as "Next Generation Identification." EPIC also lead a coalition effort urging Congress to hold an oversight hearing on the FBI database. The case is EPIC v. FBI, No. 16-2237 (D.D.C. filed Nov. 10, 2016) (Biometric Data Transfer Agreements).
  • Open Government Lawsuits at Near-Record Highs in 2016 » (Dec. 9, 2016)
    Advocates, journalists, and businesses have brought a near-record 512 lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in 2016. The findings, complied by for FOIAproject.org by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, show a 35 percent increase in FOIA litigation over the past five years. According to the new report, the lawsuits have covered diverse issues including "private email accounts, national security, immigration, the environment and even Donald Trump." In 2016, EPIC brought FOIA suits for the DOJ's secret inspector general reports, the DOT's drone task force records, and the FBI's biometric data transfer memos.
  • EPIC FOIA: EPIC Obtains Secret Inspector General Reports » (Nov. 21, 2016)
    Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit EPIC has obtained nonpublic reports from the Department of Justice's Inspector General. The documents include audits of drug control funds. Another set of documents include audits of other grant programs, as well as a list of information security audits conducted since 2005. EPIC also obtained a previously unpublished audit of a state lab's DNA database. The mission of the DOJ Inspector General is "to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel." EPIC also recently sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain information on the massive biometric database "Next Generation Identification."
  • EPIC Sues FBI Over Biometric Data Program » (Nov. 14, 2016)
    EPIC has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation for information about the agency's plans to transfer biometric data to the Department of Defense. The FBI maintains one of the world's largest biometric databases, known as the "Next Generation Identification" system, but the FBI has resisted maintaining privacy safeguards. The Bureau previously proposed to exempt the database from many of the safeguards in the federal Privacy Act, which EPIC opposed. Then EPIC, following a FOIA lawsuit, obtained documents that revealed an error rate up to 20% for facial recognition searches in the FBI database. Now EPIC has filed an open government lawsuit to obtain a secret document that details the transfer of personal data in the FBI system to the Department of Defense. [Press Release]
  • High Court Extends Fourth Amendment Protections to DUI Blood Tests » (Jun. 23, 2016)
    In Birchfield v. North Dakota, the U.S. Supreme Court today held that states cannot criminalize an individual’s refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test. The Court also found that the Fourth Amendment does not allow warrantless blood tests incident to arrest, but does permit warrantless breath tests. In the 2013 case Maryland v. King, EPIC urged the Supreme Court to protect genetic privacy by extending Fourth Amendment protections the collection of DNA from arrestees. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a cheek swab incident to an arrest was permissible.
  • Federal Court Upholds Photo Tagging Suit Against Facebook » (May. 8, 2016)
    A federal judge has rejected Facebook's argument that the company did not violate an Illinois law that requires companies to obtain consent from consumers before collecting biometric data such as a "faceprint." Describing the biometric privacy law, the court said that Facebook's position was "antithetical to its broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology." In 2011, EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that the facial identification of users was an unfair and deceptive trade practice. In 2012, EPIC urged the FTC to suspend facial recognition "until adequate safeguards and privacy standards are established." Canada and Europe have since required Facebook to suspend the use of photo tagging.
  • Federal Agencies Seek Comment on Protections for Human Research Subjects » (Sep. 8, 2015)
    The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to the "Common Rule," ethical rules regarding biomedical and behavioral research involving human subjects in the United States. The proposal seeks to strengthen requirements for informed consent but would also exempt certain categories of research from administrative review. The Department will accept public comments on the proposed revisions until December 6, 2015. EPIC previously submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services, warning that medical privacy standards for deidentification were "gravely inadequate" and urged support for stronger techniques of deidentification. EPIC routinely comments on privacy issues involved in health data.
  • California Court Strikes Down DNA Collection Law » (Dec. 4, 2014)
    A state appeals court in California has struck down a state law that requires collection of DNA from people arrested on felony charges. The California court ruled that DNA collection by a cheek swab is an unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the state's constitution. "The California DNA Act intrudes too quickly and too deeply into the privacy interests of arrestees," wrote the court. The appeals court also said that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Maryland v. King, which upheld a similar law in Maryland, did not apply in this case because of significant differences between each state's DNA collection laws. EPIC has participated as amicus in several cases concerning the collection of DNA. In Maryland v. King, EPIC argued that the government collection of DNA opens the door to misuse and threatens personal privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Maryland v. King, EPIC: Maryland v. Raines, EPIC: Kohler v Englade, EPIC: US v. Kincade, EPIC: Herring v. US, EPIC: Comments on TSA Biometric Systems, and EPIC: Genetic Privacy.
  • Senate to Hold Homeland Security Oversight Hearing » (Jun. 10, 2014)
    The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing for the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify. EPIC has objected to many of the agency's mass surveillance practices, including the secret profiling of American air travelers, the use of drones for aerial surveillance, the amassing of information on Americans into "fusion centers", and the collection of biometric identifiers. EPIC has also warned that the DHS Chief Privacy Officer has failed to safeguard privacy, a legal obligation for that office. According to the DHS, the number of privacy complaints increased in 2013. EPIC has several Freedom of Information Act case pending against the DHS. In an earlier case, EPIC determined the DHS was monitoring social media and news organizations for criticisms of the agency. Another EPIC case led to the removal of the x-ray backscatter devices from US airports. For more information, see EPIC v. DHS - Social Media Monitoring and EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program).
  • Sen. Franken Questions Apple on iPhone Fingerprint Scanning » (Sep. 21, 2013)
    Senator Al Franken has raised questions about the privacy and security implications of the fingerprint reader on Apple's new iPhone 5S. "If someone hacks your password, you can change it—as many times as you want. You can't change your fingerprints," Senator Franken wrote. He also pressed Apple for additional details on the protection available to users against law enforcement access to biometric data. In Congressional testimony, EPIC has previously warned that biometric identifiers will "allow for greater data collection and tracking of individuals." For more information, see EPIC: Biometric Identifiers.
  • EPIC FOIA - DHS Facial Recognition System Lacks Privacy Safeguards » (Aug. 22, 2013)
    In response to an EPIC FOIA request, the Department of Homeland Security has produced documents revealing that the agency has failed to establish privacy safeguards for "BOSS" (the Biometric Optical Surveillance System), an elaborate system for facial recognition and individual identification. The documents obtained by EPIC indicate that none of the agency's contracts or statements of work require any data privacy or security protections for BOSS' design, production, or test implementations. The New York Times reported on EPIC's acquisition of these documents, noting also high failure rates for these systems. EPIC is also pursuing a FOIA lawsuit with the FBI over the agency's development of "Next Generation ID," which, when complete, will be the largest biometric identification database program in the world. For more information, see EPIC: Face Recognition, EPIC: EPIC Opposes DHS Biometric Collection, and EPIC - Biometric Identifiers.
  • EPIC Opposes DHS Biometric Collection » (Jun. 21, 2013)
    EPIC has submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security, staunchly opposing the agency's border biometric collection, facilitated through the Office of Biometric Identity Management program. Since at least 2004, DHS has collected fingerprint and facial photos from individuals entering the United States. DHS then disseminates this information to DHS agency components, other federal agencies, and "federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies," and the "federal intelligence community." Currently, at least 30,000 individuals from federal, state, and local governments access the data contained obtained by DHS's biometric collection program. DHS shares this biometric data with foreign governments, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In its comments, EPIC urged the agency to cease collecting biometric information without proper privacy safeguards in place. Should the agency continue to collect this sensitive information, EPIC recommends that DHS: (1) impose strict information security safeguards on its biometric information collection and limit its dissemination of biometric information; (2) conduct a comprehensive privacy impact assessment on the biometric collection program; (3) grant individuals Privacy Act rights before collecting additional biometric information; and (4) adhere to international privacy standards. For more information, see EPIC: US-VISIT and EPIC: Biometric Identifiers.
  • FBI Performs Massive Virtual Line-up by Searching DMV Photos » (Jun. 17, 2013)
    Through a Freedom of Information Act request, EPIC obtained a number of agreements between the FBI and state DMVs. The agreements allow the FBI to use facial recognition to compare subjects of FBI investigations with the millions of license and identification photos retained by participating state DMVs. EPIC also obtained the Standard Operating Procedure for the program and a Privacy Threshold Analysis that indicated that a Privacy Impact Assessment must be performed, but it is not clear whether one has been completed. EPIC is currently suing the FBI to learn more about its development of a vast biometric identification database. For more information, see EPIC: Face Recognition and EPIC: Biometric Identifiers.
  • EPIC Sues FBI to Obtain Details of Massive Biometric ID Database » (Apr. 8, 2013)
    EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI to obtain documents about "Next Generation Identification", a massive database with biometric identifiers on millions of Americans. The EPIC lawsuit follows the FBI's failure to respond to EPIC's earlier FOIA requests for technical specifications and contracts. According to EPIC's complaint, "When completed, the NGI system will be the largest biometric database in the world." NGI aggregates fingerprints, DNA profiles, iris scans, palm prints, voice identification profiles, photographs, and other identifying information. The FBI will use facial recognition to match images in the database against facial images obtained from CCTV and elsewhere. For more information, see EPIC v. FBI - Next Generation Identification, EPIC: Biometric Identifiers and EPIC: Face Recognition.
  • US to Retain Biometric Database on Iraqis » (Dec. 21, 2011)
    According to Wired, although the war in Iraq is officially over US Central Command will retain a massive database with retinal scans, thumb prints, religious affiliation, as well as other personal data on millions of Iraqis. In 2007, EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to warn that the collection of biometric data in the region poses a direct risk to human rights and could result in genocidal violence. The Defense Science Board also warned that the database could "become a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands." For more information, see EPIC - "Iraqi Biometric Identification System."
  • EPIC, Coalition Seeks Investigation of New FBI ID Program and "Secure Communities" » (Sep. 26, 2011)
    A coalition of civil liberties and civil rights organizations have asked the Inspector General of the Department of Justice to investigate the FBI's Next Generation Identification program, a "billion-dollar initiative to create the world's largest biometric database." The 70 organizations, including EPIC, have also urged an assessment of "Secure Communities," the mismanaged federal deportation effort. Several states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York, have already withdrawn from the DHS program. For more information, see EPIC - "Secure Communitities."
  • FTC Announces Workshop on Facial Recognition Technology » (Sep. 20, 2011)
    The Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host a workshop on December 8, 2011, on the privacy and security issues raised by the increasing use of facial recognition technology. Facial recognition technology has been used by Facebook to build a secret data base of users’ biometric data and to enable Facebook to automatically tag users in photos. The Army has also used facial recognition technology to collect biometric data from Iraqi and Afghan civilians at checkpoints, workplaces, the sites of attacks, and door-to-door canvasses. EPIC, Privacy International, and Human Rights Watch wrote to the US Secretary Defense in 2007 to warn that the system could lead to reprisals and further killings. Police agencies are also using facial recognition to identity political protesters. EPIC’s complaint regarding Facebook’s facial recognition is still pending before the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: Face Recognition, and EPIC: Iraqi Biometric Identification System.


The CBP's implementation of a Comprehensive Biometric Entry/Exit Plan currently includes the testing of facial recognition and iris imaging capabilities at exit/entry points within the US. The FY 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act provides up to a $1 billion for the CBP biometric entry/exit program and President Trump's Executive Order "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States"(Executive Order 13780 of March 6, 2017) explicitly calls on CBP to "expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry exit tracking system." These techniques pose significant threats to privacy and civil liberties, in particular the ability to conduct facial recognition covertly, remotely and on a mass scale. The lack of precautions that can be taken to prevent the collection of one's facial image, in addition to the absence of well-defined federal regulations controlling the collection, use, dissemination, and retention of biometric identifiers, raises serious privacy concerns for the individual. Identification through these processes eliminates an individual's ability to control their identities and poses a specific risk to the First Amendment rights of free association and free expression.

CBP's 1:1 Facial Recognition Air Entry Pilot Program

Facial recognition technology has been used by CBP officers at airport entry screening points. This roll out began with a sixty-day field test deploying equipment to take photos of individuals at ports of entry and using facial recognition technology to compare the photo stored on the embedded computer chip in U.S. passports. The program has been expanded to all U.S. airports and to cover first-time travelers form VWP countries. Individuals, including U.S. citizen, do not have the option to opt-out of the facial recognition comparison process.

CBP states it will "retain facial images and comparison match score data from those travelers who are subject to an adverse or law enforcement action resulting from secondary inspection." This retention was expanded to include those "images with scores that fall in the mandatory referral range" as well as "all facial images taken during secondary inspection."

CBP's Biometric Exit Program

A pilot facial recognition program (the Departure Information Systems Test ("DIST")) began in June 2016 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The purpose of the pilot was to test the accuracy of CBP's facial recognition technology. The CBP stated that the agency's "initial findings support the piloted process as a viable solution to fulfill the mandated biometric exit requirements in certain settings." However, no report explaining these initial findings has been released to the public.

Under this program, CBP would create exit records for passengers and retain them in CBP's Advance Passenger Information System ("APIS"). CBP officers would take a photo of the passenger and match it to a photo in the flight-specific galleries in the Automated Targeting System ("ATS") consisting of compilations of photos from the Automated Biometric Identification System ("IDENT"), the Department of State's Consolidated Consular Database, and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service's Computer Linked Adjudication Information Management System ("CLAIM 3"). Photos of U.S. citizens could be retained until their identities were confirmed, and the photos of non-U.S. citizens could be retained for up to fifteen years in the DVS system in ATS.

The Traveler Verification Service ("TVS") is an iteration of the agency's biometric exist system that uses a cloud environment for facial recognition. A production of a "report identifying how each algorithm performed" was expected following the release of a TVS PIA update in May 15, 2017. DHS Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, John Wagner, has stated that TVS will be expanded to eight airports during the summer of 2017.

A JetBlue self-boarding program will utilize CBP's facial recognition technology to verify the identity of JetBlue customers and CBP's database of passport, visa, and immigration photographs and is part of CBP's "ongoing trials to implement a biometric exit process in the future."

CBP's Iris Imaging Testing

The CBP is testing "iris imaging capabilities" at Otay Mesa Port of Entry. Testing, beginning in December 2015, consisted of capturing the iris images of non-U.S. citizens entering the U.S. and requiring certain non-U.S. citizens to "provide facial and iris biometrics to compare to their entry record.";

The CBP has three goals for the entry/exit strategy they have developed: (1) reducing biographic gaps by expanding biographic collection, (2) conducting targeted biometric operations, and (3) transforming entry/exit operational processes.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC is concerned that the CBP's biometric entry/exit tracking system and techniques lack proper privacy safeguards and maintains that the public should be fully informed about these systems. Without access to relevant records, EPIC and the public cannot assess the level to which the biometric entry/exist systems used and developed by the CPB safeguard and respect individual privacy. EPIC therefore has a significant interest in obtaining CPB documents concerning the biometric entry/exit system and plan -- including reports, records, correspondence, training materials, technical specifications, memoranda, passenger complaints, contracts, policies and procedures.

EPIC previously sued the FBI over the Bureau's Next Generation Identification database, which contains face prints, fingerprints, and other biometrics of millions of Americans. EPIC's lawsuit against the FBI revealed that biometric identification is often inaccurate.

FOIA Documents

Legal Documents

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 17-1438)




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