How many imposters has technology identified?
Since the rollout, over the first three years or so, primarily in the air passenger environment and a little in the maritime, we have identified around 300 imposters using the technology. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have identified them otherwise. Last year, at land pedestrian crossings on the southern land border, he caught about 1,000 to 1,100.
Critics fear digital systems are being used for surveillance. How do you guarantee confidentiality?
Our business use case is to identify individuals at a time and place where they would normally expect to show up for identity verification. We do not grab images or scrape social media. People present passports and we have a repository to draw from and create galleries before they arrive using US passport photos and photos of those who have applied for visas. We therefore build these galleries in the airport and maritime environment on the basis of the information already provided for identity verification. We compare it to the information we have.
And we make sure there is secure encryption. When a gallery is created, that photo is not attached to any information and cannot be reverse-engineered to be compromised. The design is based on the privacy measures we knew we had to put in place. Images for US citizens are retained for less than 12 hours and often much less.
How do you deal with the threat of unconscious bias in programming, which could lead to higher error rates for certain groups, including people of color?
It is certainly something that we are very attentive to. We have partnered with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide information about the program. Our high performing algorithms show virtually no demonstrable difference in demographics.
How are travelers notified that they can opt out?
We post signs at all entry points. Persons withdrawing must notify the officer during the inspection. It would then revert to the manual process.
Is the technology present at all border checkpoints?
We have deployed it in pedestrian routes at land borders. In the air environment, we cover around 99% with simplified arrival. The land border is the ultimate border. We just completed a 120-day pilot project in car lanes in Hidalgo, TX and will be evaluating the outcome. At the cruise terminals, we are in the 90% range. We work with nine major carriers at eight ports of entry, including Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, all in Florida.
How do you address biometric skeptics?
We welcome the scrutiny from privacy groups. We want to be able to tell and share the story of the investment we’ve made in privacy. There are so many myths and so many misinformation confusing what we do with surveillance. Whenever new technology is deployed, there are always legitimate concerns. We welcome these questions. They help us respond better when we build these systems.
Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.