ICE Used Facial Recognition to Mine State Driver’s License Databases

WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have mined state driver’s license databases utilizing facial recognition expertise, analyzing hundreds of thousands of motorists’ pictures with out their information.

In at the least three states that supply driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, ICE officers have requested to comb by way of state repositories of license pictures, in accordance to newly launched paperwork. At least two of these states, Utah and Vermont, complied, looking out their pictures for matches, these data present.

In the third state, Washington, brokers approved administrative subpoenas of the Department of Licensing to conduct a facial recognition scan of all pictures of license candidates, although it was unclear whether or not the state carried out the searches. In Vermont, brokers solely had to file a paper request that was later accredited by Department of Motor Vehicles workers.

The paperwork, obtained by way of public data requests by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology and first reported on by The Washington Post, mark the primary identified occasion of ICE utilizing facial recognition expertise to scan state driver’s license databases, together with pictures of authorized residents and residents.

Privacy consultants like Harrison Rudolph, an affiliate on the heart, which launched the paperwork to The New York Times, mentioned the data painted a brand new image of a follow that ought to be shut down.

“This is a scandal,” Mr. Rudolph mentioned. “States have never passed laws authorizing ICE to dive into driver’s license databases using facial recognition to look for folks.”

He continued: “These states have never told undocumented people that when they apply for a driver’s license they are also turning over their face to ICE. That is a huge bait and switch.”

The use of facial recognition expertise by regulation enforcement is way from new or uncommon. Over two dozen states permit regulation enforcement officers to request such searches towards their databases of driver’s licenses, a follow that has drawn criticism from lawmakers and advocates who say that operating facial recognition searches towards hundreds of thousands of pictures of unwitting, law-abiding residents is a significant privateness violation.

The F.B.I., for instance, has tapped state regulation enforcement’s troves of pictures — primarily these for driver’s licenses and visa functions — for practically a decade, in accordance to a Government Accountability Office report. The bureau has run over 390,000 searches through databases that collectively hold over 640 million photos, F.B.I. officials said.

The Georgetown researchers’ documents covered 2014 to 2017, and it was not immediately clear if those states still comply with the ICE requests. Representatives for the states’ motor vehicles departments could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday night.

On Monday, Amy Tatko, the public outreach manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said in a statement that the use of facial recognition technology by the agency was discontinued in 2017 “at the direction of current governor Phil Scott as soon as it was brought to his attention.”

Matt Bourke, an ICE spokesman, said the agency would not comment on “investigative techniques, tactics or tools” because of “law-enforcement sensitivities.”

But he added: “During the course of an investigation, ICE has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and international agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and subsequent prosecution. This is an established procedure that is consistent with other law enforcement agencies.”

The researchers sent public records requests to each state, searching for documents related to law enforcement’s relationship with state motor vehicles departments. They received varying degrees of responsiveness but discovered the ICE requests in Utah, Washington and Vermont, which have come under fire before for sharing driver’s license information with the agency.

The Seattle Times reported last year that Washington State’s Department of Licensing turned over undocumented immigrants’ driver’s license applications to ICE officials, a practice its governor, Jay Inslee, pledged to stop. And a lawsuit in Vermont filed by an activist group cited documents obtained under public records law that showed that the state Department of Motor Vehicles forwarded names, photos, car registrations and other information on migrant workers to ICE, Vermont Public Radio reported this year.

The relationship between Washington’s Department of Licensing and ICE officials may prove to be particularly interesting to privacy experts because of a law the State Legislature passed in 2012 stipulating that the department could use a facial recognition matching system for driver’s licenses only when authorized by a court order, something ICE did not provide.

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