President Donald Trump's executive order from early 2017 that saw the government restrict travel to the United States is on the verge of becoming a full-blown privacy nightmare if it wasn't one already.
One part of the directive mandated everyone crossing U.S. borders is submitted to biometric identity verification, requiring the 20 busiest airports in the country make the necessary preparations and have the required technology implemented and in use by 2021.
While the airports in question more or less started laying the groundwork for the change immediately following the publication of the President's executive order, a new report suggests they're behind schedule, with BuzzFeed News accusing the Department of Homeland Security of reckless implementation efforts that may even be illegal.
Citing close to 350 pages of government documentation originally obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, the new report paints a grim picture of the reality that Americans and anyone whose travels include the U.S. are about to face.
Due to how rushed the overall process of installing the new surveillance equipment was, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed no restriction on how affected airlines are allowed to use biometric data of travelers gathered during the mandated checkups. That alone presents a massive privacy risk, especially seeing how most — if not all — airlines are extremely likely to eventually start looking into ways to monetize that information due to the profit-driven nature of their operations.
The CBP is said to have declined to comment on repeated inquiries about whether any guidelines were put into place in order to at least attempt dissuading airlines from doing anything risky with the highly sensitive data if it's already set on going the no-time-to-legislate route and implement the invasive system without any kind of a legal framework meant to at least alleviate some of the concerns stemming from its very existence.
Sources claim the agency did opt for oversight in December but describe the move as a last-minute affair and question whether the somewhat formal restrictions are even being enforced.
What little information the CBP shared in the past involved a confirmation that all data of non-U.S. citizens is kept by the government for two weeks for the purposes of testing some unspecified technologies. Industry watchers warn of such info being used to create databases which can in turn be utilized for further highly invasive activities.
And while the current state of affairs is a direct result of actions taken by the Trump administration and is almost guaranteed to contribute to additional deterioration of privacy protections in the U.S., that very same government recently signaled it's prepared to let a highly controversial Bush-era law that allowed for tens of millions of Americans to be profiled under the guise of anti-terrorist activities expire for seemingly no reason or political gain.
While it can be argued that very act represents political gain in the sense of strengthening the administration's position with privacy advocates, that's hardly the demographic the White House targeted so far and it's unclear why it would suddenly start doing so, more than two years into its tenure. Naturally, the currently incoming privacy nightmare the top 20 airports in the country will start enforcing by 2021 hardly complements that idea either.