Data breach in U.S. customs, questions raised upon the safety of personal data of citizens

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed that traveler images including photographs of people leaving and entering the country and license plates have been stolen by hackers due to breach of protocol from the subcontractor.

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Data breach in U.S. customs (1)

If you think your personal information can be safe and secure with the government, then you should think twice. The photos, personal phone numbers, and information regarding license plates can be leaked to bad actors through the government sources. The data breach had taken place and it is one from the government, which is known for its superpower in the world. The U.S. government suffered from the data breach. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revealed that traveler images including photographs of people leaving and entering the country and license plates have been stolen by hackers due to breach of protocol from the subcontractor. CBP stated that a subcontractor “violated mandatory security and privacy protocols” through transfer of the data to its own network. The transfer had been taken place without the authorization or knowledge of CBP officials.

According to the statement by spokesperson of CBP to TechCrunch, the agency found out about the breach on May 31. The breach has affected nearly 100,000 people over the duration of a month and a half. The agency also revealed that the photos of passport and other travel documents have not been compromised. Moreover, the photographs of airline passengers from entry or exit points have not been stolen.

CBP has not named the subcontractor in its email to TechCrunch. The report has come out few weeks after the reports of data breach of Perceptics, a government contractor that provides license plate readers at the land borders of the U.S. The data from the company was stolen and dumped on the dark web. Though there is no straight evidence that shows these two incidents are linked, a report from Washington Post outlined that there was Perceptics mentioned in a document related to this breach. CBP stated that no image has been identified on the internet or the dark web. The agency had given a detailed report on the incident to the members of the Congress. It has been monitoring the work associated with CBP by the subcontractor.
Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator, stated that the government should explain the steps it intends to take to avoid such breaches in the future. He opined that the vast information of Americans has always been a prime target of hackers. This breach gives a lesson to those supporting the expansion of government surveillance powers.

The civil liberties organization has been infuriated with the incident as it strongly opposed the collection of data regarding facial recognition along the border. Neema Singh Guliani, a senior legislative counsel at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), emphasized that this breach underlines the need to put an end to facial recognition efforts at the border by the government. She added that the best way to avoid breach of personal information is not to collect it and retain it.

The government should dig into this matter and take necessary actions against the subcontractor. Though it is unclear how many people have been affected by this, this breach has sprung up speculations regarding the safety of personal information along with distrust in the government. Moreover, necessary measures to avoid such incidents in the future must be taken.