Surveillance Oversight

Traveler Screening and Border Surveillance


Surveillance that starts at the border of ports of entry creep into daily life. Stopping surveillance technology at the border is crucial to preserve privacy.

Throughout history surveillance technologies have often been first used on travelers crossing America’s borders or traveling through other ports of entry into the U.S. At the border, privacy protections are lowered and pressure to comply is heightened, forcing people to submit to invasive screening and surveillance procedures. Travelers are subjected to excessive surveillance including:

  • Screening by black box algorithms that give them “scores” determine the level of security screenings at airports and decide who will be put on a “no-fly” list;
  • Detailed databases powered by AI and managed by companies like Palantir;
  • Facial recognition identification at borders and airports;
  • Cell phone and computer searches without warrants;
  • Social media searches of immigration applicants;
  • Drones and mobile surveillance towers patrolling the border with a wide range of surveillance equipment.

EPIC works to end the use of the most privacy-invasive screening and surveillance technology and impose limits, protections, and oversight to protect individual rights against the abuse of the technology that is implemented.

Border Surveillance Creeps Into the Interior

Border Authorities Have a Massive Jurisdiction

Under current 4th Amendment law there are lower privacy protections at the border compared to the interior of the US. Travelers may be searched without warrants and forced into screening databases. The border extends far further than most people realize, Customs and Border Patrol is authorized to operate within 100 miles of the border, giving the agency effective jurisdiction over 2/3 of America’s population.

Technology Starts at the Border and Ends Up in Your Hometown

Most major surveillance technologies were first tested at the border. The Department of Homeland Security piloted its facial recognitions programs at Southern border crossings before expanding the technology to airports across the US. Drone surveillance has been used along the border for years, and is increasingly present in American cities. Both DHS and the National Guard flew drones over Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Metal detectors and body scanners were first used in airports but are now a feature of many government buildings and events across the country. When a surveillance technology is used at the border, it’s usually only a matter of time before that tech is deployed more widely.

Border Surveillance Dehumanizes Migrants

Border authorities subject travelers and especially immigrants to surveillance that would be considered unacceptable in any other context. Long wait times, invasive screening, and detention centers all serve to distinguish migrants from citizens, who are subjected to less intense border crossing procedures. Surveillance plays a key role in managing the immigration process. While all travelers are subjected to excessive surveillance, those with the lowest status experience the most invasive procedures.

EPIC’s Work

EPIC regularly comments on the proposed use of surveillance technologies in airports and at the border. EPIC pays particular attention to the use facial recognition services and immigration databases. EPIC also works with coalitions to oppose the expansion of border surveillance and roll back excessive practices.

Support Our Work

EPIC's work is funded by the support of individuals like you, who help us to continue to protect privacy, open government, and democratic values in the information age.