Published: Tue, June 11, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Photos of travelers, license plates taken by Customs leak in data breach

Photos of travelers, license plates taken by Customs leak in data breach

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the photos of travelers and license plates were compromised in a cyberattack, the agency announced Monday.

The photos were on a subcontractor's company network, where they subsequently were compromised by a cyberattack.

In a 2017 privacy document, the Department of Homeland Security said automated license-plate readers are used for 'detecting, identifying, apprehending, and removing individuals illegally entering the United States at and between ports of entry or otherwise violating USA law'. CBP declined to say what images were stolen or how many people were affected.

Many details of the attack remain unknown, such as how many people may have had their data exposed.

The response: The CBP, which first learned of the data breach on May 31, says it has taken the equipment involved out of service and that none of the stolen images have so far appeared online. The agency also claimed an investigation has been launched with the help of additional law enforcement, cybersecurity experts and CBP's own Office of Professional Responsibility.

The CBP makes extensive use of cameras and video recordings at airports and land border crossings, where images of vehicles are captured.

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The US government maintains vast databases of travelers' personal information, including passport and visa photos, and airlines have also increasingly used facial recognition technology, sharing biometric data with federal agencies that store the sensitive information. The database includes passport headshots, but also images acquired from license plate readers, for all cars crossing a United States border.

CBP spokeswoman Jackie Wren said she was "unable to confirm" whether Perceptics was the source of the breach.

"This breach comes just as CBP seeks to expand its massive face recognition apparatus and collection of sensitive information from travelers, including license plate information and social media identifiers", Neema Singh Guliani, American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel, said in a statement.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he meant to hold hearings next month on the Homeland Security Department's use of biometric information.

The U.K. computer security website The Register, which said the hacker responsible alerted it to the breach in late May, identified the company as Perceptics.

Just last week, members of Congress grew skeptical of the FBI's ability to implement "adequate privacy and accuracy guardrails" for USA citizens after Government Accountability Office (GAO) representative Gretta Goodwin revealed the bureau's available database contained some "640 million photos" of Americans nationwide.

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