Reason Roundup

All U.S. Travelers Abroad Should Submit to Facial Recognition Scans, Says Homeland Security

Plus: "Right to be forgotten" follies, research on direct cash aid, Elizabeth Warren on sex work, and more...


The Department of Homeland Security wants mandatory facial scans for all Americans traveling in or out of the country. A proposed rule change states:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required by statute to develop and implement a biometric entry-exit data system.

To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition and to help prevent persons attempting to fraudulently use U.S. travel documents and identify criminals and known or suspected terrorists, DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure.

This terrifying possibility would expand on DHS pilot programs that have "already been rolling out across more than a dozen US airports," with the alleged goal of identifying people who overstay their visas, explains PC Mag.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) explains how it works:

Just before entry or exit, each international traveler's photo is taken, either by CBP-owned cameras or equipment provided by the airlines, airport authority, or cruise line. CBP's biometric matching service, the Traveler Verification Service (TVS), compares the new photo with DHS holdings, which include images from photographs taken by CBP during the entry inspection, photographs from U.S. passports, U.S. visas and other travel documents, as well as photographs from previous DHS encounters.

Right now, U.S. citizens entering or exiting the country with a valid U.S. passport aren't required to let border authorities snap their pic. CBP states:

Travelers who do not wish to participate in this facial comparison process may notify a CBP Officer or an airline, airport or cruise line representative in order to seek an alternative means of verifying their identities and documents. CBP discards all photos of U.S. Citizens within 12 hours of identity verification.

On the accuracy of this system, CBP points out that "with high quality photos, the most accurate algorithm can identify matches with only a 0.2 percent error rate" (emphasis mine), which is not exactly a reassuring metric.

"Travelers, including US citizens, should not have to submit to invasive biometric scans simply as a condition of exercising their constitutional right to travel," Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. He continued:

Time and again, the government told the public and members of Congress that US citizens would not be required to submit to this intrusive surveillance technology as a condition of traveling. This new notice suggests that the government is reneging on what was already an insufficient promise.

Airport Technology notes that Homeland Security has "plans to install biometric scanners at 20 of the country's largest airports by 2021."


As Stewart Baker writes at The Volokh Conspiracy, "Turns out that you can kill two people and wound a third on a yacht in the Atlantic, get convicted, serve 20 years, and then demand that everybody just forget it happened. The doctrine hasn't just jumped the shark. It's doubled back and put a couple of bullets in the poor shark for good measure."


Direct cash transfers to poor families help lift up whole communities. NPR reports:

Over the past decade there has been a surge of interest in a novel approach to helping the world's poor: Instead of giving them goods like food or services like job training, just hand out cash—with no strings attached. Now a major new study suggests that people who get the aid aren't the only ones who benefit.

This was something a lot of people doubted. "There's a fear that you just have more dollars chasing around the same number of goods, and you could have price inflation, and that could hurt people who didn't get the cash infusion," Berkeley economist Edward Miguel told NPR. And so

Miguel and his collaborators teamed up to conduct an experiment with one of the biggest advocates of cash aid. It's a charity called GiveDirectly that, since 2009, has given out more than $140 million to impoverished families in various African countries.

The researchers identified about 65,000 households across an impoverished, rural area of Kenya and then randomly assigned them to various groups: those who got no help from GiveDirectly and a "treatment group" of about 10,500 families who got a one-time cash grant of about $1,000

More from NPR here. Full study here.


A new national poll from The Hill/HarrisX finds a surprising (but still ultimately fairly low) level of support for Michael Bloomberg:


  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) offered up her standard mushy answer when asked again about decriminalizing sex work:

  • The conversation around consent continues to get stupider:

  • Approval of authoritarian rule is apparently trending up among Republicans:

  • A bill to lessen restrictions on where people on the sex offender registry list can live was just vetoed by Wisconsin's Democratic governor, Tony Evers.
  • The Reset podcast looks at how "the technology of ankle monitors doesn't actually work very well, which means it ends up having hugely negative impacts on the lives of the people it's meant to be helping."
  • Section 230 "basically enabled the internet as we know it," YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki tells 60 Minutes.
  • Americans like technology companies much more than a lot of other institutions: