In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “The Minority Report,” facial recognition technology was present at every transit center and port of entry in every city, allowing the government to track the movements of any- and everyone. A person wanted for questioning or in the process of committing an unlawful act could easily be tracked and thereby quickly located and apprehended by authorities.
When that film was released, facial recognition technology was science fiction; although it was in research and development stages in reality then, it was far too expensive to be put into practical use.
As interest in the technology grew, several mega-corporations began competing to develop it into a viable product that could be sold to governments for use at border crossings, airports, and other transit centers, ostensibly to track bad guys and apprehend them before they could wreak havoc on government installations or on the population in general.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency announced in August that it is set to begin expanding the use of facial recognition technology at border crossings in California and Texas to screen people entering the country. In fact, it has already formally requested bids from companies for development and installation of the technology at the crossing sites.
The plan is to replace the static inspection kiosks with dynamic mobile biometric systems. In other words, documents (i.e., passports) and fingerprint tracking will be enhanced and ultimately replaced by the biometric system.
CBP has sought bids for a “test phase,” which will begin in December and continue as long as through May 2025. The bid is rumored to be worth as much as $960 million USD.
Currently, the three major corporations capable of developing and supporting the technology are Microsoft Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Google.
The government document that announced the request for bids to develop the technology for practical and widespread use at border crossings states that “A biometric-based approach allows threats to be pushed out further beyond our borders before travelers arrive to the U.S.” In other words, troublemakers will be identified and detained before they are even close to entering the country.
San Francisco was the first city to ban the use of such technology, citing privacy and civil rights issues. Other cities are set to follow suit.
The problem that many see with the technology is that as software designs have improved and computing costs have diminished, the use of facial recognition promises to be put into use by more and more entities, not limited in any way to the government’s use of it at international border crossings.
As in Spielberg’s film, such technology was employed by police departments, using it to arrest and detain people for “Pre-crimes,” with the assumption that spying on people enabled them to predict by a person’s behavior that he was imminently going to commit a crime before actually doing it.
CBP is already under serious criticism for its policies of separating children from their parents at the border. Many fear that their inhumane policies will only become more severe with the use of a technology that is based on software applications that are still in the developmental stages, and have not been tested on a large scale in practical situations.
The inherent dangers are obvious.
Over the last decade, CBP has made several deals with tech companies to enhance its surveillance capabilities. In 2013, CBP awarded a multi-million dollar contract to Northrup Grumman Corp (a manufacturer of fighter bomber jets, among other things) to develop biometric software that is currently in use at 15 airports around the country. The agency’s goal is to have such technology cover virtually every major U.S. airport by 2021.
At present, CBP tracks over 1 million individuals and about 280,000 vehicles daily. Its software is currently maintained by Amazon Web Services and Salesforce Inc. Although the staff of San Francisco-based Salesforce lobbied for the firm to cut ties with CBP, the CEO of Salesforce announced that he will continue to honor its contract with the agency.
Privacy? What privacy? Your cell phone is already a GPS tracker. You’re always being watched by a system of satellites.
Why not facial recognition? What have you got to hide?
Sadly, it doesn’t matter. They see you coming….