May 19 2021

A race to the bottom: DHS “Biometric Tech Rally”

Today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a competition between hardware and software vendors to demonstrate the facial-recognition systems that are most useful for surveillance and other malign uses: cameras or other sensors and facial and/or other biometric matching algorithms that can identity travelers (or other people in public places) even if they are wearing masks:

[T]he 2021 Biometric Technology Rally will focus on evaluating the ability of systems to reliably collect and/or match images of individuals, including those wearing face masks. The intent is to improve the ability to recognize people without requiring travelers to remove protective equipment….

The 2021 Biometric Technology Rally will be held at the Maryland Test Facility (MdTF) in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, later this fall. Testing will be performed in controlled scenarios relevant to DHS operations….

Providers of face and multi-modal biometric acquisition systems, as well as providers of biometric matching algorithms, are encouraged to participate.

Requiring travelers to remove their masks at checkpoints operated by or on behalf of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and/or other DHS components endangers travelers and makes clear that the U.S. government has put surveillance and tracking of travelers ahead of safety and health.

But the way to completely eliminate the threat to travelers’ health and safety posed by unmasking is to stop trying to identify travelers,  which is based on the “pre-crime” fantasy that identity-based algorithms can read travelers’ minds and predict which of them intend to  commit future aviation-related crimes. Instead, the TSA should confine its searches to those intended to detect genuinely threatening objects: weapons and explosives.

May 17 2021

ACLU: “Digital IDs Could Be a Nightmare”

As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is soliciting proposals from vendors for how to put digital versions of drivers licenses and other ID credentials on smartphones, the ACLU has released a timely and insightful white paper, Identity Crisis: What Digital Driver’s Licenses Could Mean for Privacy, Equity, and Freedom, by Jay Stanley of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, along with an executive summary in the form of a blog post, Digital IDs Might Sound Like a Good Idea, But They Could Be a Privacy Nightmare.

The ACLU white paper links to some of our research and reporting and highlights many of our concerns with compelled identification, the REAL-ID Act, invisible virtual checkpoints, ID-based blacklists and controls on what we are and aren’t allowed to do, and the role of AAMVA and other “private” entities as outsourced, opaque, unaccountable, creators of ID “standards” that function as de facto laws and regulations that govern our movements and activities, but that are adopted in secret, exempt from the Freedom Of Information Act or other transparency laws, and lack basic privacy protections. or respect for rights recognized by the U.S. Constitution and international human rights treaties.

We encourage readers interested in these issues to read the ACLU white paper in full. But here’s an excerpt form the introduction to the white paper, framing the issue:

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May 14 2021

More DHS “pre-crime” policing, but still no real “precogs”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced the formation and rebranding of new and existing DHS components into what it is now calling the DHS Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (“C3P” in milspeak).

C3P is explicitly intended to be a “precrime” crime prevention agency, and to teach and promote “precrime” techniques for predicting future crimes and identifying future criminals to other Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. According to the DHS press release announcing the formation of C3P, “DHS’s efforts are grounded in an approach to violence prevention that leverages behavioral threat assessment and management tools, and addresses early-risk factors that can lead to radicalization to violence.”

C3P’s attempts to predict future crimes are to be based on behavioral patterns, i.e profiling, and on encouraging members of the public to inform on their families, friends, and classmates. According to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, future criminals “typically exhibit behaviors that are recognizable to many but are best understood by those closest to them, such as friends, family, and classmates.”

The problem, of course is that the law does not permit prosecution based solely on patterns of lawful behavior. With good reason: “precrime” prediction is a figment of the imagination of the creators of a dystopian fantasy movie, Minority Report.

Neither the DHS nor anyone else actually has any “precogs” (human, robotic, or cybernetic) like those in the movie who can predict future crimes, or any profile or algorithm that actually enables it to predict who will commit future crimes.

“Precrime” policing should be left in Hollywood where it belongs, not allowed to infect the thinking of those who wield real-world police powers.