FACING THE HATERS

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defended the government’s use of facial recognition technology before a skeptical House panel on Wednesday, downplaying privacy and accuracy concerns as overblown.

Representatives with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sought to assure lawmakers there’s no need to limit the agency’s expanding facial recognition tech programs in airports and border areas.

“This is not a surveillance program,” John Wagner, the deputy executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s office of field operations, told the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on Wednesday morning.

Wagner repeated the line multiple times, insisting during a later exchange with Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) that CBP’s face-scanning project — dubbed “Biometric Entry/Exit” — is “absolutely not a surveillance program” when Green expressed concerns over Americans being watched even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

But the hearing also exposed how lawmakers are struggling with the issue, showing daylight between Republicans and Democrats over whether the federal government should maintain vast and growing facial recognition capabilities. Some Democratic members of the committee said they feel CBP is surpassing its authority, while Republicans said they want DHS to have access to the national security tools it asks for.

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