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Biden's administration quietly launches asylum seeker app: what's wrong with it

To support tens of thousands of migrants stranded at the US-Mexico border, the Biden administration is banking on a technology solution: a mobile app. Tells about it Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Shutterstock

In recent weeks, U.S. border guards have taken the unprecedented step of quietly deploying a new CBP One app that uses controversial facial recognition, geolocation, and cloud technology to collect, process, and store sensitive information about asylum seekers prior to entering the United States. This is evidenced by three assessments of the data by the Department of Homeland Security and the experts who reviewed it for The Times.

DHS evaluates the application as necessary because border guards cannot “handle all individuals at once” seeking protection in the United States and forced to return to Mexico in accordance with Trump-era policies. Officials say this is a safe and effective technical solution.

DHS officials say this smart border innovation is more effective than the walls and bans of the previous administration. Department head Alejandro Mallorcas said the Biden administration is requesting $ 1,2 billion to modernize ports of entry and border security technology, including ensuring the "safe, orderly and humane treatment of migrants."

But several experts said the app raises concerns about unsupervised data collection and government surveillance of vulnerable migrants who have no choice but to consent. This was stated by Ashley Gorsky, senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Security Project. DOthers, such as Andrew Farrelli, a former Customs and Border Protection officer, believe the app is a positive step towards a more efficient and fair border process.

DHS advised that its authority to use the app may be minor and some privacy risks remain unresolved. In early May, CBP requested and received “emergency” approval from the Office of Management and Budget to use the app to collect advance information on undocumented individuals, bypassing the public comment and notification process required before new programs are launched.

On the subject: Biden allows ICE to refuse deportation of certain groups of illegal immigrants

The US border guards have already recruited international and non-governmental organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency to use the app. The organizations identify asylum seekers in Mexico who were sent there by Trump-era politicians, and then send their biographies and biometrics via an app to the Customs and Border Protection Service. CBP uses facial recognition to validate information and determine if these people will be allowed to enter the United States. When asked about the app, CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said its use is voluntary and personal information is guaranteed to be stored in official, secure CBP systems.

“CBP is committed to protecting all confidential information in its possession, including reducing as much as possible the risk of data leakage from information systems containing personal information,” she added.

Under the Trump administration, some 70 asylum seekers were forced to participate in the Stay in Mexico program: they had to wait south of the border for immigration hearings in the United States. During the pandemic, the border was closed to non-essential travel using Title 000, the 42 health care law, and many migrants, including asylum seekers, were expelled. Since then, border guards have expelled about 1944 people from the country.

Biden froze this policy on his first day in office and retained the Title 42 policy, saying it remains necessary. But in recent weeks, the administration has allowed more than 11 asylum seekers to enter the United States - those with open immigration cases. Hundreds of others rely on CBP One. As Biden rolls back restrictive border policies, officials expect the app to become the primary means of managing migration.

CBP launched the app in late October with little fanfare, making it available for download from app stores, but limiting its early features to trucking carriers, non-immigrant travelers, and pleasure boat drivers. In February, after the UN Refugee Agency began processing migrants at the border with active asylum cases, the CBP issued a cursory press release that did not mention the use of the asylum application. In May, despite requirements for privacy notices to be published in advance, the agency retrospectively published and updated assessments of how it had already used CBP One for asylum seekers.

According to the CBP, in the Stay in Mexico program, border guards collected a photo gallery of approximately 70 asylum seekers, which were automatically submitted to the Immigration and Customs Service's database. This database, also available to third party law enforcement agencies, can store such personal information for 000 years.

With CBP One, organizations like the UN Refugee Agency send photos of faces they have identified to CBP, and the app uses facial recognition to compare those photos with photos in an existing gallery. The application then sends a response indicating whether the person's case is active and how long they are waiting. If a case is open, the organization can arrange for the asylum seeker to be screened for coronavirus, travel to the point of entry and obtain permission from the CBP to enter.

On the subject: NYT: Biden Goes To Make US Immigration Easier, Faster And Cheaper

Officials have expanded the use of CBP One to those identified as potentially eligible for an exemption from the current Title 42 policy of the COVID-19 era, under which authorities expelled migrants without a trial date and with little processing. This means that, for the first time, the application to collect completely new biometric data will be used by asylum seekers in Mexico before they even arrive at the border.

Because undocumented persons often do not have paperwork to use for security checks, officers have to enter data manually, which takes time, according to the CBP. The agency says the app will automatically fill in most of the required data, calling it "safer practice during an ongoing pandemic."

CBP has long had difficulties with facial recognition

Since the 90s, Congress has implemented a tracking system for US entries and exits. In the aftermath of 11/XNUMX, CBP's efforts to identify overstayed visas, including fingerprints and photographs, increased, as well as facial recognition technology that analyzes a person's facial features to confirm their identity by comparing features to faces in another photograph. But questions remain about both the ethics and the effectiveness of the technology.

A federal study of over 100 commercially available face recognition algorithms in 2019 found that accuracy varies greatly depending on the race, country of birth, gender, and age of a person. This technology was especially unreliable for photographs crossing borders, as well as for images of people from Africa or the Caribbean.

As of May last year, CBP used facial recognition to verify the identity of 4,4 million crossing the border in three months and found 215 "impostors" - a drop in the bucket in terms of statistics.

There are also long-standing doubts about the agency's ability to protect such data. The 2018 CBP pilot program to test the facial recognition of vehicle passengers crossing the border has been hacked. This affected 180 images, with at least 000 photographs of travelers on the darknet.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

Why some criticize CBP One while others praise

Sue Kenny-Palatinate of HIAS, a nonprofit refugee advocacy group, expressed optimism about the mechanism, saying it could reduce dependence on smugglers and reduce time at ports of entry where criminals hunt migrants if the US government informs “pre-screened »Where and when they should go.

CBP's own assessments of the privacy impact of the application are mixed. Sometimes the agency states that asylum seekers can provide biographical information instead of going through a facial recognition procedure. But in one footnote, the agency says that initially a biographical option is not available. In some cases, users of the app must agree to have officials view their GPS location. But others say officials will not use the geolocation feature to track travelers.

CBP emphasizes that the application collects but does not store information, instead sending it to other databases. The agency also states that other national security components or external bodies must protect information or gain proper access to it. The CBP argues that migrants can still go to points of entry directly to request asylum and do not need to use the app. But since the border is still closed to non-essential travel, the process by which asylum seekers are identified and requested to enter - now through CBP One - is actually the only option available.

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