Traveler Screening & Border Surveillance

The government uses numerous technologies and programs to screen and track travelers as well as conduct surveillance at the border. The screening and border surveillance technologies are often privacy invasive and broadly deployed. Travelers are screened by black box algorithms that give them "scores" determine the level of security screenings at airports and decide who will be put on a "no-fly" list. At airports and other ports of entry, travelers are increasingly required to submit to facial recognition identification and cell phone searches are conducted without warrants. Drones and mobile surveillance towers patrol the border with a wide range of surveillance equipment.

EPIC works to end the use of the most privacy-invasive screening and surveillance technology and impose limits, protections, and oversight to protect individual rights against the abuse of the technology that is implemented.

Top News

  • Federal Agencies Move Forward Plan for DNA Collection + (Jan. 7, 2020)
    In a Privacy Impact Assessment, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced a plan for the DNA collection of individuals detained at the border, including U.S. citizens. The change comes after a Department of Justice proposed rule that removed the authority of DHS components, including CBP and ICE, to exempt detained individuals from DNA collection. EPIC joined a coalition of civil liberties and immigrant rights organizations in comments to the Justice Department and urged the DOJ to rescind the proposed rule. The coalition stated the proposed rule was an "unacceptable and unnecessary privacy intrusion" that will impact not only the individual's DNA being collected but also family members, including American citizens. In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, EPIC argued that law enforcement's warrantless collection of DNA is unconstitutional.
  • EPIC Comments on Canada Transborder Data Flow Policy + (Aug. 6, 2019)
    EPIC provided comments to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on Canada's policy for transborder data flows. EPIC urged the OPC to require that legal protection for personal data protection extend across borders, citing risks to privacy after the Capital One breach impacted affected six million Canadians. EPIC also encouraged the OPC to recognize multiple grounds for transfer, coupled with strong accountability measures. This approach is reflected in the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the Council of Europe's Modernized Privacy Convention. EPIC recently submitted comments on the third annual review of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, a framework that permits the transfer of Europeans' personal data to the U.S. EPIC detailed the latest developments in the U.S., including the failure to reform bulk surveillance under Section 702 of FISA, the absence of comprehensive federal privacy law and a data protection authority, the full slate appointments to the PCLOB, and U.S. endorsement of the OECD AI Principles.
  • Bill Introduced to Strengthen Privacy Protections At U.S. Borders + (Jul. 25, 2019)
    U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have reintroduced legislation that would strengthen privacy protections through limiting warrantless border searches. Customs and Border Protection officials are currently authorized to stop and search drivers without a warrant or even reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing within 100 miles of any U.S. border. They can also search private land within 25 miles of the border. In practice, this means government officers have authority to conduct searches without cause in a region that includes nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population. The Border Zone Reasonableness Restoration Act of 2019 would reduce the "border zone" from 100 miles to 25 miles and only allow officers access to private property within 10 miles of the border. A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.). EPIC has long advocated against privacy-invasive border surveillance and has filed numerous lawsuits to force CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be more transparent about their border surveillance practices.
  • More top news

  • EPIC Sues State Department About Secret Facial Recognition Database + (May. 20, 2019)
    EPIC filed a lawsuit today to compel the State Department to release information about the transfer of facial images, gathered from visa and passport applicants, to other federal agencies. EPIC explained to the federal court in Washington, DC that the Customs and Border agency is now using those images in an unlawful border system. EPIC has called for the suspension of the CBP program. Senators Markey and Lee have also opposed expansion of the CBP program to U.S. citizens. In a related FOIA lawsuit, EPIC obtained documents concerning CBP's facial recognition program. A summary report revealed that the system did not perform operational matching at a "satisfactory" level.
  • EPIC to TSA: Conduct Rulemaking on Facial Recognition + (Apr. 26, 2019)
    In comments to inform the Transportation Security Administration's 2020 National Strategy, EPIC recommended that TSA to suspend the facial recognition program at US airports. EPIC wrote, "The TSA's use of facial recognition lacks the safeguards necessary for implementation." EPIC has also warned lawmakers and the DHS about the biometric border program that incorporates deploy facial recognition. EPIC has urged the agency to undertake a notice and comment rule making that would provide the public with the opportunity to comment on the controversial program. EPIC successfully required TSA to conduct a rulemaking on its deployment of airport body scanners in EPIC v. DHS. EPIC also recommended that TSA incorporate the Universal Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence, endorsed by over 300 organizations and experts, for AI-based systems.
  • EPIC Urges Congress to Examine Surveillance at the Border + (Mar. 5, 2019)
    In advance of a hearing on border security, EPIC sent a statement to the House Committee on Homeland Security urging an examination of surveillance programs in use at the border. EPIC asked the Committee to examine the warrantless searches of mobile devices, social media profiling, and the use of drones. EPIC has filed several FOIA lawsuits against DHS regarding these surveillance activities, warning that border surveillance programs often capture the personal data of Americans. A previous FOIA lawsuit EPIC v. CPB uncovered Palintir's role in the development of the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, a program that assigns "risk assessment" scores to travelers, including U.S. citizens.
  • EPIC To PCLOB: Review 12333, Facial Recognition, AI, Smart Borders, and 702 Authority + (Feb. 7, 2019)
    In advance of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board forum on "Countering Terrorism while Protecting Privacy and Civil Liberties: Where do We Stand in 2019," EPIC sent a statement to the Board outlining priorities. EPIC said the Civil Liberties Board should (1) release the report on Executive Order 12333; (2) limit government use of facial recognition; (3) establish safeguard for government AI use; (4) monitor proposals for "smart" borders and assess privacy impacts on US residents; and (5) reform Section 702 surveillance authority. The independent agency reviews federal agency programs to ensure protections for privacy and civil liberties. EPIC helped establish the PCLOB. In 2003 EPIC testified before the 9-11 Commission and urged the creation of an independent privacy agency to oversee the surveillance powers established after 9/11. EPIC also set out initial priorities for the PCLOB and spoke at the first meeting of the Oversight Board in 2013. In 2016, EPIC awarded former PCLOB Board Member Judge Patricia Wald with the EPIC Champion of Freedom Award.
  • EPIC to Senate: Oversight Board Must Review Government Use of Facial Recognition, AI + (Feb. 5, 2019)
    In advance of a hearing about the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, EPIC sent a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining priorities. EPIC said the Civil Liberties Board should (1) release the report on Executive Order 12333; (2) review the use of facial recognition technology and propose safeguards; (3) review the use of artificial intelligence and propose safeguards; and (4) monitor proposals for "smart" borders and assess privacy impacts on US residents. The independent agency reviews federal agency programs to ensure adequate safeguards for privacy and civil liberties. EPIC helped establish the PCLOB. In 2003 EPIC testified before the 9-11 Commission and urged the creation of an independent privacy agency to oversee the surveillance powers established after 9/11. EPIC also set out initial priorities for the PCLOB and spoke at the first meeting of the Oversight Board in 2013. In 2016, EPIC awarded former PCLOB Board Member Judge Patricia Wald with the EPIC Champion of Freedom Award.
  • EPIC Sues Border Agency about Searches of Cellphones + (Feb. 1, 2019)
    EPIC will file a lawsuit today to compel a federal agency to release audits so as to determine whether the searches of electronic devices are lawful. The Border Search Directive sets out when and how Customs and Border Patrol officials may inspect cellphones, tablets, and laptop computers of travelers crossing the US border. The Directive requires the agency to develop an auditing mechanism to ensure lawful searches, yet the agency has not published the auditing requirements or the results of the audits. So, EPIC has sed for the release of the procedures. The American Bar Association recently adopted a new policy that urges Congress, the courts, and the Department of Homeland Security to enact legislation and adopt policies to protect the privacy rights of travelers. EPIC filed a related lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information about the warrantless searches of cell phones.
  • American Bar Association Takes Stand on Privacy Rights and Border Searches + (Jan. 29, 2019)
    Leaders of the American Bar Association completed their midyear meeting yesterday and tackled a range of policy issues, including privacy at the border. The ABA adopted a new policy that "Urges the federal judiciary, Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security to enact legislation and adopt policies to protect the privacy interests of those crossing the border by imposing standards for searches and seizures of electronic devices, protection of attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine, and lawyer-client confidentiality." The resolution was introduced by the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and the Criminal Justice Section. EPIC Senior Counsel Alan Butler is the Chair of the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice Section's Committee on Privacy and Information Protection. EPIC has previously submitted "friend of the court" briefs advocating for Fourth Amendment protection of cell phone data in Riley v. California and Carpenter v. United States.
  • Border Agency Finalizes Social Media Collection Rule + (Jan. 3, 2019)
    Despite comments from EPIC and others, Customs and Border Protection will collect social media information from Americans and place that data outside legal protections provided by the Privacy Act. EPIC proposed opposed the collection of personal data and said that CBP should narrow the Privacy Act exemptions. The agency responded briefly to public comments, failing to defend the agency's decision. In a related FOIA lawsuit against DHS, EPIC obtained documents which revealed that federal agencies gather social media comments to identify individuals critical of the government.
  • EPIC Investigates Airport Facial Recognition Opt-Out Procedures + (Dec. 12, 2018)
    In an urgent FOIA request, EPICis seeking documents from CBP about the procedures for travelers to opt-out of biometric entry/exit program. EPIC found that CBP frequently changes the program without any formal procedures. One consequence is that it is now more difficult for travelers to opt-out of the screening procedure EPIC wrote that "CBP is modifying rules as it is implementing the program," contrary to federal law. Earlier this week, EPIC urged Congress to suspend the program until privacy safeguards and meaningful opt-out procedures are established. In comments to the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, EPIC explained the substantial privacy risks of CBP's use of facial recognition technology.
  • EPIC to Congress: Federal Agency Making Up the Rules for Facial Recognition Screening + (Dec. 11, 2018)
    EPIC has sent a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing of Customs and Border Protection. EPIC cited frequent changes CBP has made to the opt-out procedures for the biometric entry/exit program. "Without legal authority or the opportunity for public comment, CBP is making up the rules as it rolls out the program," EPIC said. EPIC urged the Committee to suspend the screening program until privacy safeguards and meaningful opt-out procedures are established. Last week, EPIC warned Customs and Border Protection about facial recognition technology and urged the DHS Privacy committee to end the program.

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