How the government uses its giant facial recognition database

In July 1996, flight TWA 800 exploded in mid-air, 12 minutes after taking off from JFK International Airport in New York. All 230 passengers on board were killed.

It would be four years before an investigation concluded the likely cause of the explosion was a short circuit in the plane’s fuel tank.

But at the time, President Clinton felt the overwhelming need to do something.

People suspected terrorism. So Clinton issued new airport security rules.

From then on, identification was required to board an airplane.

Before that, you just needed a ticket.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, airport security escalated.

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) were born.

Screening procedures intensified. Agents could now feel you up and down. Then came naked body scanners and the Real ID requirement.

Real ID standards were part of the post-9/11 security hysteria. But they are just now coming into full effect.

The federal guidelines require states to issue IDs that meet certain federal standards, or else the ID cannot be used for flying.

One of these standards is that the photo on the ID has to work with facial recognition systems.

CBP (Customs and Border Protection) has now completed a pilot program for using biometric data for boarding flights exiting the country. Biometric data includes unique identity markers like fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition.

The DHS audited the pilot program, and found that it was a success. They caught 1,300 people who had overstayed their visas.

Wait, what? I thought this was supposed to be about national security?

But that’s not what you get from the propaganda piece on the CBP’s website.

One of their “success stories” involved a Polish couple leaving the country. They were using fake documents. But the biometric data revealed they were ordered deported and hadn’t left.

Now they were leaving. So the CBP let them leave. But first they warned them, with official documentation, that if they returned again they could face felony charges.

How is that a success story, worth the cost of tens of billions of dollars?

CBP makes it seem as if the entire purpose of this technology is to find foreigners who are entering (or living) in the country illegally.

Except that it isn’t just the foreigners that are being targeted.

The CBP, TSA, and DHS are building facial recognition databases for everyone– US citizens included.

These pilot programs scoop up whatever official pictures the US government has of you.

This includes passport photos, ID photos, and photos taken upon reentering the United States after international travel.

Delta Airlines has even started testing a new program that scans your face prior to boarding your flight and matches it against this government database.

(One of our members of team Sovereign Man recently suffered the indignity of this procedures at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.)

JetBlue has a similar program, and claims that “The customers are really delighted by it. . . they think it’s cool and they’re having fun.”

I’m not sure who these dairy cows are who think that it’s cool and fun for the government to have a giant database of biometric data.

Even if you could trust the government with this info, you absolutely cannot rely on them to keep it private. Or secure.

The Department of Homeland Security knows this well.

In 2014, over 25,000 DHS employees had their personal details stolen from a database managed by a contractor that performed background checks.

If you think hackers stealing your Social Security Number is bad, just imagine them gaining access to your biometric data.

But, hey, nobody cares.

Americans long ago gave up freedom for security.

Now they are delighted to give up even more freedom. Not even for security… for convenience. If they can shave a few minutes off of their boarding procedure, they’re “delighted,” regardless of the cost.

It’s really shocking when you think about it.

Explosions and terrorist attacks were all the excuse needed to deprive Americans of privacy while traveling.

Now Americans trade their most intimate personal details to save three minutes boarding a plane.

It wasn’t that long ago that you didn’t even need an ID to fly.

Right now Americans can still opt out of facial recognition. But it is only a matter of time until it isn’t optional.

And with Real ID deadlines coming to a close, there is no denying the federal government access to your biometric data.

They don’t have to ask, “Papers please.” They already know.

About the Author

Simon Black is an international investor, entrepreneur, and founder of Sovereign Man. His free daily e-letter Notes from the Field is about using the experiences from his life and travels to help you achieve more freedom, make more money, keep more of it, and protect it all from bankrupt governments.