All Your Face

TSA going hogwild with facial recognition is going about as well as you'd expect, "but you can opt out".

YK Hong:

Since folks asked what happens whenever I opt out of facial recognition, I documented it for you while going through US border patrol.

Coming out of the flight there was a row of kiosks for facial biometric capture. There were no people. Just kiosks. So I kept walking.

The next point of contact was the passport agents at their desks. Agent A asked me, "Did you take your photo at the kiosk?" I said, "No, I am opting out of biometric facial recognition." And the agent asked, "Why?"

And I said, "Because I don't like it." And the agent said, "Wait here," and then let the people behind me through.

After a bit of this punitive behavior, agent A sent me to agent B.

Agent B said, "Why? Why don't you want to do it?" And I said, "Because I don't want it. I want to opt out." He paused and twisted his face.

Then he pointed at a sign and said, "Read that."

The sign read: "U.S. citizens and select foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics and who wish to opt out of the new facial biometric process may simply notify a CBP officer, request a manual document check, and proceed with processing consistent with existing requirements for entry into the United States."

It's almost as if everyone entirely forgot how to do a manual check, which was being used for everyone until about a year ago.

And then agent B again said, "So you want to opt out?" Again I said, "Yes, I want to opt out." And then he said, "Why?" And I said, "Because I don't like my image being taken over and over." And then he shook his head.

He said, "You know we already have your photo right?" And I said, "Yes, but I don't like my biometrics continuously being captured."

Then he said "Okay well I have to call someone." And he just sat there looking very upset.

Then agent C arrived at the adjoining desk to begin work. And agent B said, pointing at me, "She doesn't want to do the face scan. Which manager do I call?"

Agent C then said, "You don't have to call anyone. Just look at her face and then compare it to her passport photo."

And I said, "Yes, how it used to be done just a year ago."

And agent B said, "You're my first opt out."

Then agent C said, you just have to enter on the screen why she doesn't want it." So again, I said, "I don't like the repetitive image capture."

Agent B said, "You're losing the advantages of going through quickly." I said, "That's fine." He shook his head.

Finally, after a lot of fumbling on their end, I was able to proceed through.

Even though it says, I can "simply notify a CBP officer," it is not simple at all.

Opting out of facial recognition should be as easy as it is to opt in. The fact that it's not tells you an immense amount.

Make it as hard as possible for anyone to take your very personal data.

Normalize opting out so it is never taken for granted.

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10 Responses:

  1. davel says:

    you just have to enter on the screen why she doesn't want it

    I hope that field is optional because I’m also opting out of telling you why.

    • Karellen says:

      Fortunately, "None of your business" is the reason you're opting out, and also the answer to the question about the reason you're opting out.

      (See also, "But why do you want your privacy?")

  2. granville says:

    Around 2007 I began to opt out of showing my ID to get on a domestic flight. They had every ability to ensure I'm not carrying contraband, and subjecting myself to removing your shoes, getting x-rayed and body pat-downs already ensured I was totally harmless for any safety concerns they may have had. Inspections showed that the screening was massively ineffective and (quaintly) I thought "Now they're just going too far."

    The cop response was different every time. Sometimes I had to pass through extended screening, sometimes I didn't, sometimes I went into a weird machine that blew air up my legs, sometimes it was as if I made the unholiest of did-you-pack-your-own-suitcase jokes and I was taken off to a separate room where, you start to think, you could easily be disappeared and no one would know.

    The truth is that cops are drilled in procedure, they will react in a predictable way if presented with predictable circumstances. If circumstances deviate from their training, they cannot function. Their decision-making is hampered by some kind of sine qua non of Cover Your Ass culture. Watching it in action is the human equivalent of that moment in sci-fi films when the master computer gets overloaded and starts to explode. It's funny in retrospect, like OP's story, but in person it's always a little dangerous because of the cop tendency to "solve problems" by hitting the problem with a stick.

    It seems here the short-circuiting of the cop brain is the same, though the stakes are higher. In 2007 all of the "enhanced airport security" was to present the façade of safety, so passengers would fly again after 9/11, and so the airlines wouldn't go broke in their long game of fuel price speculation. It was bullshit because it was unnecessary. Here they're really going to vacuum up everything they can get their hands on. Xinjiang wasn't supposed to be a place to workshop a few neat ideas but that's what it's starting to look like.

    • MattyJ says:

      Small correction. After 9/11, people (Americans) desperately wanted to fly. We never wanted to stop. It only took until mid 2004 for domestic passenger levels to rise back up and surpass pre-9/11 levels.

      Any perceived reluctance to fly was because of the security theater, not because of some innate fear of being hijacked. It's bullshit just the same but the TSA and whatever procedures it thinks we need was implemented as a political measure, nothing more.

      PS I have had a few occasions in my life where hitting the problem with a stick was the exact thing that was needed at the time. Don't knock the stick.

  3. Eric says:

    The underlying assumption here is that technology is better at identifying faces than humans... despite the fact that us human meatbags are the ones defining the parameters of this test to begin with.

    Yet another situation where we're being conditioned to place blind trust in algorithms over common sense.

    • thielges says:

      The tech need not be better, just cheaper than a human.  There’s someone up in homeland security who’s been given the goal of lowering payroll costs.  

      • Mark says:

        Yup, this is the motivation driving all AI development.  Not better, just okay and cheaper.  Disturbing enough when implemented at scale for marketing purposes, terrifying when applied in law enforcement.

  4. Not Frank says:

    Worse, this isn't TSA in the story; it's Customs & Border Patrol, who generally seemed to be considered more competent (though also more vicious*) and doesn't get contracted out the way may TSA checkpoints are.

    *CBP regularly asserts that your rights don't apply at the border, because you're not in the country yet. And oh yes, they also assert border extends 100 miles from any port of entry, meaning that as far as they're concerned your rights don't apply for most of the populated areas in the country.

  5. Alex says:

    One used to be able to just show up at the airport, walk through a metal detector the width of a hallway (without slowing down), show your boarding pass to someone at the gate, and get on a plane. 

    They implemented an ID requirement through a secret rule imposed on the carriers in the mid 90s.

    John Gilmore sued to challenge this but ultimately didn’t prevail because the court found he didn’t have standing, which seems pretty unreasonable IMO.

    We’re now so far down the road of security theater that the ID thing sounds pretty basic, but it’s actually pretty shocking how quickly everything changed.

  6. SteveSmith says:

    It would have been interesting to reverse the question back at them: "Why do you want me to opt-in?"

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