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Entries in DHS (6)


DHS Considering Facial Recognition at Border Stations

The Department of Homeland Security is looking to dive into the world of biometrics.

DHS is requesting information from contractors on the use of facial and iris recognition to track the departure of foreign visitors. The technology could help to DHS agents to confirm that pedestrians and drivers leaving the U.S. are who they claim to be. There’s no word yet on whether a similar system might be used for air passengers.

DHS hopes that this type of technology could help them better keep track of travelers who overstay their visas, such as Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan immigrant who was living in Virginia on an expired 1999 visa when he attempted to bomb the U.S. Capitol Building.

DHS wants to find a “fingerprint, iris, and facial matching" system that could identify more than 97 percent of foreign pedestrians. Most systems currently average 95 percent or better in ideal situations.

While it’s a bit exciting that DHS might invest in such (relatively) cutting-edge technology, we have to wonder how effective it will be in this case. What if people with expired visas never leave—or already have? DHS would never know it using this technique. Besides, what are the odds that foreigners who have overstayed their visas would exit via a border crossing, as opposed to taking a flight out of the country? And finally, how much of a backlog are these systems going to create at each border crossing? Many are already plagued with long lines and staff shortages.

Kudos to DHS for going the technology route to solve a long-term problem. But in this case, biometrics might not be the best bet.

What are your thoughts on this approach? Do you think DHS would actually make some progress using biometrics? Or would it be a waste of resources?


The Post-9/11 World of Security: 10 Years On

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks--and a fitting time to reflect on the state of America's security.

It's hard to believe that 10 years ago today, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration didn't exist. Air passengers could still be greeted by friends and family at the gate of their arrival city. And the words "millimeter wave" and "backscatter" were completely unknown.

It's impossible to quantify the ways in which 9/11 changed our lives. In the wake of the most deadly, most jarring attack on U.S. soil, security technology, policies and measures went into overdrive--sometimes to ridiculous ends.

And even in 2011, the questions persist: Are we safer now? Would terrorists still be able to find a way? How much does the added security in airports, on trains and around major events impact our lives? And how far can security measures edge into our lives before our privacy is forever compromised?

This weekend, my thoughts will be with the 3,000 people who died that day, as well as their family and friends. But I'll also be thinking about our security, privacy and way of life. And of those last few days before 9/11, when we were all ignorantly enjoying the kind of normalcy that we'll never have again.


DHS Signs Contracts for Covert Mobile Body Scanners 

An image created by a Z Backscatter Van scan

The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained documents Tuesday that suggest the Department of Homeland Security is seeking mobile and static scanning technology that will be used on people without their knowledge or consent. 

InHardFocus reported in August 2010 that companies like American Science & Engineering were already taking advanced scanning technology mobile. But the EPIC news indicates that DHS will soon make use of these mobile, covert scanners. 

DHS states that the technology will help officials quickly detect concealed explosives, which will ensure the safety of individuals in urban and transportation hubs. 

One contract calls for AS&E's Z Backscatter Van to be used as part of an Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance platform, which can be used anywhere.

Another requests a walk-through x-ray device that could be used at the entrance to special events and other points of interest. 

The technology used in these types of mobile and static screening systems is similar (and, in some case, may be identical) to that used at airport security checkpoints, which includes backscatter and millimeter-wave technology. 

Of course, EPIC is already warming up for war over these contracts. Computer World reported that an EPIC spokeswomen said using these technologies to scan people without their consent is an invasion of privacy and a violation of Fourth Amendment rights. Not to mention the possible safety risks that come from repeated exposure to these advanced scanning technologies (a subject on which TSA is still mum). 

So far, it's unclear whether the DHS contracts have been completed. 


Judge Rules DHS Need Not Disclose TSA Images to Public

The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the Department of Homeland Security for the release of 2,000 full-body images of air travelers to determine TSA's impact on privacy and civil liberties. 

But Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled the government has no obligation under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the images or related materials.

The judge agreed with TSA who said the release of such images images "would constitute a threat of transportation security" by highlighting any vulnerabilities of the technology.

Urbina said the government made a "reasonable conclusion that disclosure of the images may provide terrorists and others with increased abilities to circumvent detection by TSA and carry threatening contraband onto an airplane."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is considering an appeal.


DHS Monitors Your Blog Posts, Tweets and Status Updates

This website -- and its loyal readers -- is being watched. That's because the Department of Homeland Security has started to monitor social media websites to maintain their "situational awareness" of the public's opinion of DHS procedures and even of potential national security threats. If you're on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Hulu or even YouTube, your posts are being monitored.
The Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative was founded in June to help "ensure that critical disaster-related information reaches government decision makers." How? By keeping tabs on publicly available online forums, blogs, websites, message boards and more. 
What is DHS looking for, exactly? Here's a random sampling of the several hundred words and phrases that are used to monitor social media websites:
  • Shooting
  • Threat
  • Deaths
  • Emergency Management
  • Gangs
  • Security
  • Flu
  • Symptoms
  • Sick
  • Airport/Airplane
  • Bacteria
  • Mexico
  • Social media
Obviously, In Hard Focus must be near the top of DHS' monitor list. And you probably are too!
For a full list of websites monitored by DHS -- and the words they're looking for -- see the report here