The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expects to have face, fingerprint, and iris scans of at least 259 million people in its biometrics database by 2022, according to a recent presentation from the agency’s Office of Procurement Operations reviewed by Quartz.
That’s about 40 million more than the agency’s 2017 projections, which estimated 220 million unique identities by 2022, according to previous figures cited by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based privacy rights nonprofit.
A slide deck, shared with attendees at an Oct. 30 DHS industry day, includes a breakdown of what its systems currently contain, as well as an estimate of what the next few years will bring. The agency is transitioning from a legacy system called IDENT to a cloud-based system (hosted by Amazon Web Services) known as Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology, or HART. The biometrics collection maintained by DHS is the world’s second-largest, behind only India’s countrywide biometric ID network in size. The traveler data kept by DHS is shared with other US agencies, state and local law enforcement, as well as foreign governments.
The first two stages of the HART system are being developed by US defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which won the $95 million contract in February 2018. DHS wasn’t immediately available to comment on its plans for its database.
Last month’s DHS presentation describes IDENT as an “operational biometric system for rapid identification and verification of subjects using fingerprints, iris, and face modalities.” The new HART database, it says, “builds upon the foundational functionality within IDENT,” to include voice data, DNA profiles, “scars, marks, and tattoos,” and the as-yet undefined “other biometric modalities as required.” EFF researchers caution some of the data will be “highly subjective,” such as information gleaned during “officer encounters” and analysis of people’s “relationship patterns.”
EFF worries that such tracking “will chill and deter people from exercising their First Amendment protected rights to speak, assemble, and associate,” since such specific data points could be used to identify “political affiliations, religious activities, and familial and friendly relationships.”
EFF researchers said in a 2018 blog post that facial-recognition software, like what the DHS is using, is “frequently…inaccurate and unreliable.” DHS’s own tests found the systems “falsely rejected as many as 1 in 25 travelers,” according to EFF, which calls out potential foreign partners in countries such as the UK, where false-positives can reportedly reach as high as 98%. Women and people of color are misidentified at rates significantly higher than whites and men, and darker skin tones increase one’s chances of being improperly flagged.
“DHS is also partnering with airlines and other third parties to collect face images from travelers entering and leaving the US,” the EFF said. “When combined with data from other government agencies, these troubling collection practices will allow DHS to build a database large enough to identify and track all people in public places, without their knowledge—not just in places the agency oversees, like airports, but anywhere there are cameras.”