During last year’s election campaign, President Donald Trump famously promised to build a wall on the United States’ southern border, and make Mexico pay for it. Now, however, it appears that U.S. taxpayers may end up paying not only for the border wall, but for a whole biometric surveillance system for the Mexican government.
“The State Department is gathering information on a biometric system, to be used for the government of Mexico, that could hook up to the United States’ own databases storing some citizens’ personally identifiable information, including fingerprints and iris scans,” according to Nextgov.
In addition to fingerprints and iris scans, the system could also apparently include a repository of palm prints, voice recordings, and photos to be used by facial recognition software.
While the relevant U.S. and Mexican agencies are currently only “conducting market research” on the proposed monitoring system, and few details are available, the planning going on “is in preparation for a potential procurement to ultimately design, develop and deploy a formalized, fully compliant and scalable central Biometrics system for the Government of Mexico,” according to the announcement of the project.
“Though the Trump administration has been vocal about securing the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s worth noting that this request is part of the Mérida Initiative, which dates back to the George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón administrations,” points out the government tech news site FedScoop.
“Through the Merida Initiative, the U.S. government and the Government of Mexico are procuring biometrics technology to enhance coordination on border security and migration management activities,” a State Department spokesperson reportedly told the site.
But while much of the media attention focused on the seven Muslim-majority countries that were most severely impacted by Trump’s travel ban issued in January, another part of that same executive order also called for “a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States,” although the requirement for “all travelers” to undergo biometric scans was later removed.
Also in January, The Intercept reported that “several people on Trump’s transition team are linked to a firm called Safran, a French defense contractor that has marketed expansive facial recognition and biometric software for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”
The Trump administration connection to Safran is noteworthy given that the federal “request for information” regarding the Mexican biometric project specifically mentions the need for “interfacing and interoperability” with existing Mexican systems. Safran was awarded a five-year contract in December by the National Electoral Institute of Mexico “to conform and update the Mexican national voter registry” which “uses both fingerprint and facial recognition to help ensure that each Mexican citizen is registered only once in the national voter rolls.”
Mexico is not the only place Safran is selling its biometric surveillance technologies. In New Zealand, for example, the company is reportedly testing out a “family processing” face recognition “kiosk” at an airport. Meanwhile, Safran also just renewed a contract for “a system able to manage fingerprint, facial, and iris biometrics” with the Nigerian government, which is reportedly “planning to use biometrics in a nationwide census.”
It may come as no surprise that Trump has connections to an international surveillance company that may benefit from the government’s far-reaching interpretation of an alleged mandate to “secure the border,” especially in this era of politics when a conflict of interest seemingly has to be cartoonishly glaring to matter. Yet the fact that the U.S. is now apparently looking into paying for not only a border wall for its own security, but an entire internal security system for a country beyond its own borders, shows the emptiness of this particular promise of Trump’s — and it is exceptional, even for him.