US Government Plans to Require All Citizens Leaving the Country to Get Mug Shots

One of the little-noticed provisions of the Trump travel ban executive order was to prioritize exit controls at the border. This wasn’t just about who was coming into the country but also who is allowed to fly out.

A plan to tackle departure monitoring for visitors to the United States has been law for 24 years but hadn’t been implemented due to cost and physical practicality. The Obama was working on a similar plan they hoped to implement by 2020.

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

The Department of Homeland Security, along with several airlines, have been testing ‘biometric boarding’ at airports around the country. Error rates are significant as are system outages.

A year ago we learned DHS planned to require all citizens to have their photos taken in order to leave the country. Now it’s become officially part of the agency’s regulatory agenda.

To facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system that uses facial recognition … DHS is proposing to amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure [to or from the U.S.].

Copyright: prestonia / 123RF Stock Photo

We’re told to expect a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require photographs of U.S. citizens leaving or returning to the U.S. this summer, although current law only provides for this to be a requirement for non-citizens. It will take an interesting argument, such as photographing of citizens being necessary to control illegal immigration, in order to make this work.

Government-mandated biomatric data, by the way, will be shared with airlines and others for commercial purposes. That’s how they’re working to get airlines to pay for this.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Don’t understand this for 2 reasons–

    –Why US citizens?
    –Why upon departure?

    What’s the rationale behind all this?

  2. Pretty sure the passport kiosks already do this on entry soooo I guess it doesn’t really matter.

    “A plan to tackle departure monitoring for visitors to the United States has been law for 24 years but hadn’t been implemented due to cost and physical practicality. The Obama was working on a similar plan they hoped to implement by 2020.”

    What is it with our government taking appreciable fractions of a century to get stuff done?

    And why is it that while everyone one else kicks it down the road Trump is the one to actually get it done finally?

    Of course I’m sure it will be called racist because once Trump tries to implement a policy that people have agreed on for 24 years it is suddenly evil.

  3. Yikes, you guys need a new editor.

    Ex 1: “A plan to tackle departure monitoring for visitors to the United States has been law for 24 years but hadn’t been implemented due to cost and physical practicality.” (A plan has been law?)

    Ex 2: “The Obama was working on a similar plan they hoped to implement by 2020.” (The Obama? They?)

    Trust your readers.

    The height of your images should be less than the height of your total written copy.

    Get rid of the underline and italics.

  4. If we are planning on returning, we mush have a passport in the travel record, which already has a digitized photo, so why do they need to take a new picture?

  5. I do not like this. The USA is turning into the surveillance society. Not sure who to blame. The Bush II administration put in place the apparatus to track and control worldwide financial transactions in a response to “terrorism”. The Obama administration continued and enhanced those policies. Remember when Comey was demanding a backdoor into everyone’s Iphones. The Trump administration is continuing to tighten. WTH. Big tech tracks everything everyone does. Yuck.

  6. This really doesn’t matter or make a difference. They already take video throughout the airport. What I am concerned with is the actual border being defended, all illegal aliens being deported in quick fashion and an end to visa abuse and false asylum claims.

    All the above should be done but citizens and tourists should not be abused by TSA and customs. Most government policies are backwards. Instead of focusing on illegals, customs would rather harass citizens and tourists and conduct warrantless searches of electronic devices which are capricious, arbitrary and can be done just because an officer doesn’t like you or how you looked at him or her.

  7. None of this will matter once 5G is rolled out all over. It will enable much higher speeds of surveillance in 4k or higher of each person as they walk through the airport. This in turn will allow real time facial matching and facial recognition. My guess is that the photos will be security theater to see how people react instead of an actually tool.

  8. Just one more cut in the death of our freedoms “by a thousand cuts” in a post 9-11 world IMHO, all under the name of “security”. I believe the Stasi and KGB used similar methods. DHS already requires our enough of our personal data just to book and check-in for an international flight.

  9. @DaninMCI

    What does 5G have to do with it? This has been possible for years with Wifi (since you’re inside an airport)…

    Which itself is a bit pointless, considering every camera is already hardwired with power and 1Gbps ethernet…

    It’s still a huge waste of resources to spend a dime on exit photos. What problem are they looking to solve? What purpose does this expense of funds accomplish?

    @A_B – you’re not racist – just maybe don’t understand how government works. And probably can’t read, since Gary already stated above that the ball started rolling during the Obama admin.

    It didn’t take 24 years to “get er dun”. It seems that during those 24 years it wasn’t a priority. See my questions above. Neither the Obama nor Trump administrations seems to have any particular justification for it (considering it wasn’t fast-tracked during the Bush admin after 9/11 is probably a sign that the defense and intelligence agencies don’t even see it as a priority), but sure glad Trump and Obama can blow up the budget more for another useless feel-good security measure.

  10. Growth of Big Brother. Growth of the security state. Chipping away at our freedoms. It’s sad to see what this country is becoming.

  11. Don’t really see a valid reason for this. The fact that they will in turn give some of the data collected to airlines is just sketchy.

  12. Will this apply only at airports? What about land crossings into Canada or Mexico? Right now, the only stop leaving the U.S. for Canada in the Great Lakes area is to pay the toll across the bridges.

    And what about water crossings by private boat on the Great Lakes? I did that for many years, and only reported in by cell-phone when I arrived.

  13. @D.A. and @DaveS – there is no right of privacy in public and also it has been established for many years that certain places, like airports, military bases, federal buildings, etc, can implement their own security methods. Not sure why you both feel this is “big brother” or you are losing your rights. Frankly you NEVER had privacy rights in public, only in your home (and then only absolutely if you own and don’t rent).

    Just like “first amendment” rights that people whine about whenever someone is fired for comments or otherwise punished this is a joke. The entire country needs a lesson on constitutional law so you understand what your rights REALLY are and aren’t plus how the bill of rights doesn’t grant rights. in many cases, to private companies or citizens outside of dealing with the government.

  14. @Jon

    I fear it your reading comprehension that may be in need of a recalibration.
    According to our esteemed host’s wonderful phrasing

    “The Obama was working on a similar plan they hoped to implement by 2020.”

    Which means

    1. “The Obama” were working on a plan to maybe do something after he was gone possibly.
    2. They did not actually “get r done”

    As to the racist bit, which I am as you say not…

    I believe Bush II and congress passed the secure fence act to stop illegal immigration, The Obama yammered about stopping illegal immigration I think Bubba Clinton paid lip service to stopping it, Trump actually tries to fix it and RRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAACCCCCCIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSTTTTTTT.

    I believe Bubba Clinton signed a bill mandating the movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem, Bush mentioned recognizing it in campaigns as did The Obama, but they all kicked the can down the road until Donald Trump made it happen. And of course that was called racist as well.

    There are other examples as well I’m sure.

  15. @A_B – It’s note “dun” here either, bub.

    “According to the ‘Unified Agenda’, the DHS plans to publish a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) in approximately July 2020”

    So by June of 2020, they PLAN to publish a notice of PROPOSED rulemaking. For it to be done by January 2021, DHS will need to be on time with that planned notice, go through all of the back-and-forth of the rulemaking process, procure the equipment, test the equipment and process, deploy the equipment to all TSA airports (or even the largest subset of them at major international airports) and push users through that process in the 7 months from July 2020 to January 2021.

    Oh, and since there are some pretty seismic constitutional questions about requiring US citizens to “produce ze papiere before leaving ze country”, odds are pretty high for this to get held up for a few years as it makes its rounds through the federal courts.

    As noted. The ball started rolling during “The Obama”, and is unlikely to be complete by Jan 20, 2021.

  16. @AC, I’m reflecting on practice rather than theory here. They are clearly doing, or proposing to do soon, things they haven’t done before. I am not saying they don’t have the legal right theoretically to do it, though I wish they didn’t. I am saying I regret it happening. Read the linked article by Gary about how (un)reliable the project has been. Here Gary makes mention of the error rates and system outages. This whole regime of monitoring and controlling the movement of citizens not accused of any crime is simply growing at many points and is eroding our freedoms and privacy. Unfortunately neither party has any interest in limiting government’s role these days.

  17. And don’t forget the Real ID cards which are just another way to harvest all your information.

  18. Generally, I am against the idea that if a particular privilege or freedom is not nailed down by the Constitution, that it is ok for government to take it away.

    To make an over-the-top example for illustration purposes, I have always been able to kiss my girlfriend in Times Square and have someone take a picture of it (like the famous V-J Day in Times Square picture). The Constitution does not guarantee my right to (1) kiss my girlfriend in a public place like Times Square and (2) take a picture of it. That does not mean that the government has an unfettered right to take that privilege away.

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