back to article 'It’s not a surveillance program'... US govt isn't going all Beijing on us with border face-recog, official tells Congress

A Homeland Security official on Wednesday stressed the US government department would not use facial-recognition technology to monitor American citizens. John Wagner, the deputy executive assistant commissioner at the Office of Field Operations for Customs and Border Protection (CPB), told a House committee hearing not to …

  1. doublelayer Silver badge

    It's not a surveillance program

    Thank you for telling us. So all we want right now is to have a look at your files and thoroughly investigate to make sure that's actually the case. Sadly, that's proven necessary given other not-a-surveillance-program systems we've been told about before. After we've seen and accepted your proof, you can keep going. Just come back every year to reassure us with the required documentation that you are still adhering to human rights and not exceeding your authority. Now where are those other agencies we need to do that with? Get in here, guys, and bring your documentation.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: It's not a surveillance program

      Homeland security may not be spying on US citizens (except where they accidentally do, which is a given) but that doesn't mean they don't share their information with other government departments that do, or various state organizations.

      But I'm not taking the word of a "deputy executive assistant commissioner" (which has too many qualifiers to be anything but a low level position) at border control! He has no fricking idea what the rest of the Homeland Security is doing, like the FBI or DEA. If they have a classified program I'm sure someone with a title that long and meaningless doesn't have clearance to know about it. Plausible deniability FTW!

      They might as well ask me to speak for all white men that we are sorry for all the raping and lynching over the years, but don't worry we've stopped now.

      1. SolidSquid

        Re: It's not a surveillance program

        Pretty much this. "We're not running the database against any other systems" doesn't mean "We're letting other people run their systems against the database" isn't also true

        1. teknopaul Silver badge

          Re: It's not a surveillance program

          Dont worry folks. Given that you have fuck all chance of travelling with privacy these days it doesnt matter _how_ we sync your id to your google profile.

          Google knew you were going on holiday before your smiling face turned up at the airport anyway.

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: It's not a surveillance program

            What Google profile?

            1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

              Re: It's not a surveillance program

              It's called a shadow profile, and unless you've been running NoScript for several years, you have one.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: It's not a surveillance program

      "Keep coming back every year" is no help. They'll just make small changes every now and then, each one individually not big enough to rouse much opposition, and in ten years you'll be there all the same.

      We've seen this before. It's what happened when the US began fingerprinting tourists. Even the reassurances were the same: the immigration database was separate from any other set, they'd never be compared. What they didn't say was that this was not policy, it was sheer incompetence on their part - they were storing the data in an incompatible format - and two years later, that bug had been fixed.

    3. GrapeBunch Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: It's not a surveillance program

      NASP. That's what they said to Cleopatra. What could possibly go wrong?

      That's my face. What went wrong?

  2. Teiwaz Silver badge

    It’s well known that convolutional neural networks struggle most when trying to identify women and people of darker skin from their faces

    Well, I'm sure some bod will be looking into the deep/nudes/fakes (whatever, it's early/late) data to improve the latter.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Somewhere, there's someone in the TSA who is dumb enough to have an idea after reading all about the deepfake nudes thing: Hey we can stop using those expensive privacy violating scanners the public doesn't like if we take pictures of them with clothes on and let that program tell us what they look like without clothes. Then we can see if they have any hidden bombs under their clothes!

    2. jmch Silver badge

      "It’s well known that convolutional neural networks struggle most when trying to identify women and people of darker skin from their faces"

      My take on that line, actually, is that it's bollocks. CNNS do not inherently have any more difficulty with women or darker-skinned people, it's just that the training data used is skewed towards white males and therefore the CNNs are better at recognising whit emales.

      I wonder if the Chinese surveillance has difficulty recognising Caucasians?

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Maybe the difficulty with women is that they are prone to wearing makeup and changing their appearance quite frequently. The ability to accurately map the various facial features decreases if the image lacks sufficient contrast - which is more likely with dark skin than light skin.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Given that the Chinese surveillance system was developed using bunches of datasets collected by universities in the west and shared with China by academics who didn't think it through, I think they have plenty of access to all types of faces. Since they were going for high accuracy rather than cheap or fast development, they probably have a much less biased system. Why is it always the evil people who have the best system?

        1. DougS Silver badge
          Coat

          "why is it always the evil people who have the best system?"

          And the volcanic lairs?

  3. NATTtrash
    Megaphone

    <shouty>Follow the blue line!</shouty>

    A Homeland Security official on Wednesday stressed the US government department would not use facial-recognition technology to monitor American citizens.

    ...which means that if hold any other passport, all assurances are out of the window...

    Just sayin'...

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: <shouty>Follow the blue line!</shouty>

      Americans with dual citizenship already know not to travel to the US on their non-US passport. I mean, why would they ever use their non-US passport, the pinko turrist traitors?

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: <shouty>Follow the blue line!</shouty>

        "Americans with dual citizenship already know not to travel to the US on their non-US passport."

        Doesn't make a difference, does it? As I understand, at the border EVERYONE is scanned by the facial recognition, and then compared to whatever databases they have. That means that a US dual-nationality system would have their face scanned and potentially matched to the face on his non-US passport.

        And since the system doesn't know a priori who is a US citizen, it scans everyone anyway. And likely the data is being stored, for a while at least but quite possibly forever, given the reluctance of government agencies to ever voluntarily get rid of any data

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: <shouty>Follow the blue line!</shouty>

      ...and of course you don't know they are American citizens until you've facially-recognized them.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spot the double talk - we've been here before..

    "We [US org] shall not spy on US citizens"

    As what they call an alien that stament does not fill me with warm fuzzy feelings, even after a good helping of Guinness, as that very specifically excludes the rest of the planet for which they appear to reserve themselves the right to spy on with gay abandon.

    But those who still have an attention span wider than social media is training them for (i.e. longer than a hamster on acid) will recall that the above has a bypass wider than the Yangtze river: they can ask a foreign organisation to do the spying for them in a mutual, backslapping, total avoidance of legal restrictions.

    To have any value, the above statement should thus have something added: '.. nor wil we use any other organisation foreign or domestic to do the dirty work for us" and yet, I still wouldn't trust them.

    As I said, we've been there before, and not exactly once either. A data fetish is hard to cure.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Spot the double talk - we've been here before..

      I don't think my gay friend Mr. Abandon is really spying on anyone....

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Spot the double talk - we've been here before..

      No, it's great. If they can't spy on US citizens, they can't spy on anyone. The constitution is crystal clear on that.

      "Equal protection of the laws", it's called. Any person within US jurisdiction has all the same legal protections as a citizen.

      Keep that in mind, Americans. If they can do it to us, they can do it to you.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "it is not, apparently, employed for surveillance purposes"

    Funny, I am getting a furious impression of déjà vu on reading that. As if there was another US TLA that had promised it wasn't listening in on American citizens. Surely, it must be just an impression, right ? Riiight.

    So Homeland Security is now one-upping the NSA with cameras at border stations and in airports, all of which is obviously linked to the same database somewhere (a wild guess, Fort Meade ?), which the NSA obviously has access to.

    So yeah, the mouthpiece can confidently stand in front of Congress and claim that they do not do surveillance because he has not been told what the NSA does with that data.

    But do not try and convince me that the NSA is not perusing that data and correlating it with all the other stuff it gleans. It's National Security, man, you know it's necessary.

  6. Tony Paulazzo

    'We don’t run the scans against any other databases*'

    * Yet! (should be a required disclaimer on absolutely every government statement, ever!)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We don’t run the scans against any other databases

      ... to the best of my knowledge ;)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “We don’t run the scans against any other databases. It’s not a surveillance program,”

    Why would I trust a liar again?

  8. Cuddles Silver badge

    "We don’t run the scans against any other databases."

    Liar:

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/07/08/fbi_and_ice_trawling_driving_license_databases_for_suspects/

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: "We don’t run the scans against any other databases."

      That's why he worded it so carefully. He's CBP, they're ICE so technically, he's given himself an out should any congresscritter actually try going beyond superficial sound bites.

  9. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    traveler identification not surveillance purposes

    Um, what's the difference?

    Not even the thin end of a wedge, but another chainsaw through the rights of travellers.

  10. Helstrom
    Big Brother

    How much "rage" is enough?

    “unlikely that every demographic will be identical in performance across the board, whether that’s age, rage, or sex.”

    So exactly how enraged do I need to be at the border to not be positively identified?

    -> Big brother because apparently he can't handle angry :(

  11. Matthew Taylor

    click

    Click goes the ratchet, up another notch - "don't worry, we're not USING the data!" Perish the thought. Then, in 6 months, wait for the talking heads to tell us how it's "crazy that we don't cross reference data in this connected digital world!"

  12. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    Noostalgia...

    "...the deputy executive assistant commissioner at the Office of Field Operations for Customs and Border Protection..."

    Job title like that makes me think it's been too long since I last read Keith Laumer's "Retief" stories.

  13. Mike Moyle Silver badge

    “We don’t run the scans against any other databases..."

    "We outsource that to other agencies."

  14. JohnFen Silver badge

    Define "surveillance"

    I understand what they mean by "it's not a surveillance program", but it totally is a surveillance program -- they're claiming that it's not a "follow you around everywhere" type of surveillance program.

    That said, I'm not inclined to believe what the DHS says just because they said it. Some sort of evidence or independent audit would be necessary for me to even begin to take them seriously on that.

  15. James Loughner
    Facepalm

    Bright side

    "he Secret Service is currently running a pilot study to see if AI-backed cameras installed around the White House"

    Now we know where to look for who is visiting the Pres LOL Perfect

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019