Fifty civil and immigrant rights groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden in February asking him to place a moratorium on all federal government use of facial recognition technology and other forms of biometric technology until Congress has authorized its use in specific circumstances with sufficient safeguards.

They claimed, among other things, that the technology disproportionately misidentifies and misclassifies people of color.

The letter refers to a February 2018, study of three commercially available facial recognition programs that found while they had high accuracy rates for lighter-skinned males, there was an error rate of 34.7 percent for darker-skinned females.

This could be a problem when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses facial recognition technology to screen people seeking admission to the United States. Should Biden prohibit CBP from using this technology?

Congressional mandate

Biden can’t stop CBP from using biometric technology at the border. CBP has to comply with a congressional mandate to develop and employ a biometric entry/exit system for recording arrivals and departures to and from the United States, but he can stop CBP from using biometric technologies that can’t accurately identify dark-skinned people.

CBP spent several years testing various biometric technologies to determine which ones would be suitable for such an entry/exit system in the different environments in which individuals are inspected at air, land, and sea ports. Facial recognition technology was chosen because it is suitable in all of these environments — and it can be performed relatively quickly with a high degree of accuracy.

How it works

Facial recognition technology uses computer algorithms to scan and map the distinguishing features of a person’s face and then compares the resulting map to maps of pictures in the person’s passport, his visa, and in the galleries that CBP maintains.

Galleries include photographs captured by CBP during inspections, from passports and visas, and from other sources, such as the Automated Targeting System, which provides maps of faces in law enforcement and intelligence databases.


Published originally on The Hill.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. Follow him at