Nov 30 2023

Senate bill introduced to ban TSA use of facial recognition in airports

Six US Senators led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) have introduced a bill to prohibit the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from using automated facial recognition at airports.

S.3361 the “Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023”, was introduced on November 29, 2023 by Sens. Merkley, Kennedy,  Edward Markey (D-MA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Introduction of this bill comes more than five years after these and other Senators started to raise questions about whether airline passengers can be, should be, or are already being required to submit to automated facial recognition at airports, despite questionable claims by the TSA that passengers can “opt out” of facial recognition.

We find it notable and praiseworthy that this bill (text of bill as introduced), isn’t an attempt to “regulate” TSA use of automated facial recognition or to bolt on controls on how this surveillance technology or facial images or other data (event logs, etc.) collected by such systems. Rather than imposing regulations, the bill would impose a categorical ban on TSA use of automated facial recognition at airports, at least for now. If this bill is enacted, the TSA would be allowed to use facial recognition technology in airports only if that use is explicitly authorized by new legislation enacted after the passage of the “Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023”.

The “Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023” would close a significant loophole in current and proposed laws. Other proposals for regulation of facial recognition are pending in Congress, but they exempt the TSA and/or fall short of a categorical ban on use of facial recognition. And Federal preemption of regulation of air travel has given the TSA  impunity from state and local attempts to restrict government use of facial recognition.

The “Traveler Privacy Protection Act of 2023” would do nothing about the use of automated facial recognition by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at international airports, but it would create a model for legislation that could also be applied to CBP.

Nov 13 2023

Advance Travel Authorization (ATA) and the “CBP One” app


As we’ve discussed before in this blog, and as other human rights advocates have noted, asylum requires traveling to a border. Since you can only apply for asylum after you arrive in a country of refuge, freedom to travel from a place where you are subject to persecution to a country of refuge is a prerequisite for asylum.

But as we have also noted, including in comments earlier this year to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning the rights of migrants, governments including the US government have steadily increased their efforts to undermine the right to asylum by preventing  asylum seekers from traveling to their borders.

The latest step in this direction is the Advance Travel Authorization (ATA) system operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Under this program, asylum seekers can request permission through the CBP One mobile app to travel to the US. CBP is already operating this system under a temporary “emergency” authorization from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but is seeking OMB approval to make it permanent.

As we explain in comments we submitted today to CBP:

Because the US has no jurisdiction and CBP has no statutory authority over travel by non-US citizens within or between other countries or their departure from other countries, and because whether or not a non-US citizen has requested or been granted “permission” from CBP has no bearing on their right to leave any other country or to travel within or between other countries by common carrier or otherwise, this collection of information is of no practical utility for any lawful activity of CBP or any US agency.

Do asylum seekers need permission from the US government to leave other countries where they are being persecuted, or to travel to the US?

No, they do not, as we explain in our comments to CBP: Read More