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Let's face it, we live in a surveillance society

Facial recognition unlocks the gates of Guam

By C.J. Urquico

The A.B. Won Pat International Airport is Guam’s frontline, the first impression of anyone visiting our island. It is the face of Guam, the first thing people see and remember.

The Guam airport now features facial scanners. As you enter from an international flight, you walk by a large screen and camera running facial recognition software.

If you are a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen, the system matches your face with an image in a database that holds your passport information. Once verified, you breeze through immigration without any delays. You don’t have to show your passport. The program is called “simplified arrival.”

Non-residents coming into Guam and the Northern Marianas for the first time are recorded and permanently stored in a Department of Homeland Security database.

The biometric system makes for a more streamlined experience for visitors who had their photos and fingerprints taken previously, as they no longer have to repeat the process. Their images and information are already stored in the cloud.

Airports are special places to pass through, where one has to give up one’s rights. Travelers are programmed to be subjected to an identification check, allow search and seizure, and strip down for a prison-like cavity search if one is unfortunate.

The facial scanners are currently installed only at international arrivals. The airport will eventually install the system at the check-in counter area and TSA checkpoints to comply with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s mandate, according to John Quinata, executive director of the Guam International Airport Authority.

There are whole-body scanners that look underneath travelers' clothing. A traveler can opt out and choose an enhanced pat-down instead of a body scan; this means the passenger will be frisked by a TSA officer.

PreCheck® simplifies the procedures by allowing travelers to bypass the scanner.


Opting out of the facial scan will also be allowed. Although if one already went through a body scan, a facial scan is not a problem.

However, Guam is not China, where surveillance is constant, and a plethora of cameras everywhere scans everyone’s face.

A recent Georgetown Law University study titled “American Dragnet: Data-Driven Deportation in the 21st Century” says that the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement has started a domestic surveillance agency using data brokers and biometrics.

“Data brokers are a multibillion-dollar industry that encompasses everyone through credit-reporting companies to these sites that pop up whenever you Google the name of your friend's new sketchy boyfriend to (company) names that you have never heard of,” John Oliver said in the April 12 episode of “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. “What all these companies have in common is that they collect consumers' personal information and resell or share that information with others. As one expert puts it, they’re the middlemen of surveillance capitalism.”

Guam is not China— not yet. In China, the communist party owns your information. In America, the corporations own and share it with one another. Illegal entries by Chinese nationals using boats originating from the CNMI are a problem. These incursions are happening more than we think. Guam is the friendliest island on earth so undocumented Chinese nationals are able to disappear into the community.

“Border security is a complex, multi-jurisdictional issue that affects all areas of public safety, but immigration is exclusively under the oversight of federal authorities,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio. “Despite our enforcement limits, we are actively monitoring our maritime borders for suspicious activity through increased land surveillance and sea vessel patrols. We encourage our island to stay alert and report any unusual sightings to the authorities.”


Most people use social media and feed data into various platforms such as Facebook. Apps also send an incredible amount of information about our lives to companies that in turn may sell them to data brokers. This may be linked to the DHS database.

In Chinese cities, surveillance cameras are omniscient. They are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, all constantly scanning faces. Chinese citizens know that they are constantly watched and when they commit a minor infraction like jaywalking, their image may end up on billboards. Instant shaming is an invitation for trolling on Weibo, China’s official social media platform.

A future filled with cameras that have AI capability is here now.

I always tell my kids to act like a camera is filming them when they are in public, and not to take a video of themselves doing something questionable and sharing it because it will get out.

Soon passports may become a thing of the past. I will miss collecting stamps and visas from different destinations.

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