Published: Wed, July 10, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

ICE and Federal Bureau of Investigation used facial recognition to search driver's license databases

ICE and Federal Bureau of Investigation used facial recognition to search driver's license databases

In three of those states, the report found that ICE has scanned DMV databases to conduct facial recognition searches.

The Washington Post reports that federal law enforcement officials have absorbed the databases of state departments of motor vehicles into their surveillance apparatus, with little oversight from Congress or state legislatures.

The same GAO report says that FBI has carried out over 390,000 searches since 2011 in both federal and state databases that collectively hold over 641 million face photos.

While the Green Light Law was created to prevent possible surveillance of undocumented NY state residents, Curtis and Abid said that the use of facial recognition software to target individuals is concerning regardless of citizenship or resident status. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security uses passport photos for its facial recognition systems. The statement went on to say that Governor Herbert is "committed to ensuring that Utah's facial recognition system will only be used for law enforcement purposes and never against law abiding Utahns". Companies like IBM have 1) scoured social media, image hosting services, and the broader information superhighway, 2) swiped photos, and 3) used them to train facial recognition software.

Researchers at Georgetown University Law Center obtained documents related to the searches using the technology, which The Washington Post reported on this past weekend.

We only know about this facial recognition sweep thanks to Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

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Asked about the Georgetown records, Ice spokesman Matthew Bourke said the agency does not comment on "investigative techniques, tactics or tools", adding, "During the course of an investigation, Ice has the ability to collaborate with external local, federal and global agencies to obtain information that may assist in case completion and prosecution efforts".

SHAHANI: So what was uncovered is that ICE agents, while looking for undocumented people, ended up having extraordinary access to the state records of American citizens. 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 FBI has the ability to use your driver's license photo without you knowing it.

"We're glad that it stopped, but this was one tool in a larger toolbox between the Vermont DMV and ICE that has resulted in the detention and deportation of many immigrants in the state", Lambek said. Not all of the people searched using the state's facial recognition technology were undocumented immigrants, she added. "So I think that what ICE is doing should be a concern for everyone, not just the undocumented community", Curtis said.

However, fingerprints and DNA are ostensibly collected by law enforcement according to procedures based on long-established legal principles of "reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause". "There are real concerns about the risks that this technology poses to our civil rights and liberties and our right to privacy". We have not allowed access beyond this to any federal agencies.

In a Government Accountability Office report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted tests on the accuracy of facial recognition and found that 86 percent of the time a match was found in a 50-person list. "When it is used, its only after a crime has occurred", he said.

This isn't the first time it has happened, he said, pointing to the state's controlled substance database from which police mined Utahns' sensitive medical information without permission. In fact, in the most recent two oversight hearings before the House Oversight Committee, Republicans and Democrats alike said that it was an outrage that the federal government was searching driver's licenses in this way.

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