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CBP App Raises Privacy and Accessibility Concerns for Asylum Seekers

Mar 10, 2023

In 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) launched a new mobile device application called CBP One, which aimed to streamline the asylum process for those seeking refuge in the United States. With the Biden administration’s recent announcement to expand CBP One, immigration advocates have raised concerns about the app’s data collection and overall impact on an already strained asylum system.

CBP One was originally developed in response to the increasing number of asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, intending to make the process more efficient. The app allows asylum seekers to submit their initial claims electronically, reducing the need for in-person interviews and paper documentation. It also allows asylum seekers to check their case status in real time and receive notifications for scheduled interviews or immigration court hearings.

However, since its creation, the app has raised serious concerns about privacy and accessibility among lawmakers and immigration advocacy groups. While CBP officials insist that user data is kept secure with encryption technology, many privacy advocates have expressed worry that the app is used to collect sensitive personal information, such as facial recognition data and fingerprints. CBP’s privacy policy also states that any personal data collected from users may be disclosed in response to a court or administrative order, or for law enforcement purposes.

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In addition to general privacy concerns, accessibility remains a key issue with the app’s expanded use, as not all asylum seekers have access to a smartphone or a reliable internet connection. As the program expands, reliance on a mobile device app could make navigating the asylum process more difficult for those with limited financial resources.

There have also been frequent reports of technical flaws with the app itself. Some users have reported persistent error messages, difficulty in uploading documents, and trouble navigating the app’s interface. In its current iteration, CBP One also has trouble capturing images of people with darker skin tones (to register on the app, all users are required to take a photo of themselves for their profile). Critics have argued that the app should not be used until these systematic technical issues are addressed and a more secure version is developed.

Despite legitimate concerns about the app’s privacy, accessibility, and functionality, CBP One remains in use and will likely play a key role in the Biden administration’s efforts to overhaul and modernize the country’s struggling asylum system.

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